THE PASTORATE (continued)
Upon the passing of Bishop Bowdan's on September 22, 1976, the saints again found it necessary to seek the guidance of the Lord in selecting the pastor for this assembly. It was in the Fall season, September 2, 1977, when the Apostolic Faith Home Assembly church family unanimously accepted District Elder G. Grady Benton as its new pastor.
Bishop G. Grady Benton
1977 - 1995
His lovely companion Sis. Bettye Benton accompanied our newly elected pastor from Oberlin, Ohio to the city of the Angels in November, 1977, to take on this great and new responsibility. District Elder Benton was officially installed to this pastorate on January 29, 1978.
Prior to his assuming the pastorate of the Apostolic Faith Home Assembly, District Elder G. Grady Benton served as a national evangelist for the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. from 1961-1976. 1948-1964 he served as the Assistant Pastor at the Apostolic Church of Christ in Mansfield, Ohio . 1967-1977 he pastored
Christ Temple Church in Oberlin, Ohio. Since coming to California, from 1981-90 he served as President of Aenon Bible College, West Coast, and in August 1987 he was bestowed the honorary doctorate of religion from Aenon Bible College, Indianapolis, IN. In 1993, by the appointment of the late Bishop Robert W. McMurray he was elevated to the office of Suffragan Bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World.
Suffragan Bishop Benton is a man of great moral character and humility as he believed in working hard in the Kingdom of God means more than wearing titles and being honored. For this reason, he did not agree with the church's requests to honor him as the leader until his fifth year of service. The first Anniversary service held in honor of Pastor and First Lady Benton was November 16-21, 1982.
The prior years were spent establishing a strong spiritual foundation at the church by instituting what is affectionately known as "New Life Ministries." The development of New Life Ministries, a vision given to Pastor Benton from God, was presented at the early onset of his pastorate. It consists of an organized Christian education department which categorizes all ministries and helps in a way to service one's entire Christian development needs. New Life Ministries ultimately works to meet Dr. Benton's number one goal for our church -- SAVE SOULS. In addition, it is designed to give everyone a place in which to utilize their ministry in the church, particularly when everyone is given by God a work to do in the body.
Numerous accomplishments were made under this great man's leadership, thus we can only mention the key ones. In the twenty years of service, Suffragan Bishop G. Grady Benton has reconstructed the main sanctuary to include our baptismal pool with the addition of a men's and women's dressing rooms, a choir loft behind the pulpit, and the design of our beautiful stained glass window which faces the congregation. In addition, he consistently maintained the preservation of this antique architectural structure by changes and improvements which always enhance its posture and beauty. During his leadership, on Sunday, May 19, 1985 our church was able to celebrate our mortgage burning and today praise God, our place of worship is paid-in-full.
In September, 1983, another vision was achieved. We held the grand opening of New Life Day Care Center. This reality was brought to life with the capable assistance of his youngest daughter, Candace Benton. Some years later the school changed its name to New Life Academy and educated children from pre-school (age 2) through the eighth grade, with an enrollment of approximately 150 students. This was a very high-quality school, with students testing in the top 10th percentile of the nation!!!!
In addition to being concerned about the education of our youth, Bishop Benton also concerned himself with the education of the saints, and in September, 1990, he founded and opened New Life School of Ministries. New Life School of Ministries focused on quality spiritual education, beyond Sunday School and Bible Class, and welcomed anyone with a desire to learn more about God's truths. Classes ranged from general surveys of the Old and New Testaments, to in-depth studies of various books of the Bible, and ministerial courses including homiletics and Greek. While most students who attended New Life School of Ministries were participating in the certificate program, students were able to earn credits towards their Bachelors degree.
The last major accomplishment under Suffragan Bishop Benton's pastorate was the completion of the G. Grady Benton Educational Complex, an edifice of more than two million dollars. In the process of achieving this goal, Dr. Benton, enabled by the anointing of God, led this assembly on June 1, 1991 in a campaign to raise one million dollars. In exactly one year's time, as scheduled, the Lord saw this to its completion. From this accomplishment, he affectionately called us "the million dollar church". By August 23, 1994, our church had acquired $2,600,000 in funding and construction began in 1995. On September 29, 1996 we dedicated the new complex which consists of a lower level and three upper levels. The second level (street level) has a beautiful fellowship/dining hall, with a complete professional kichen, equipped to house the most elaborate dinner or the best of God's people fellowshipping and having a good time. The remainder of the building houses classrooms and administrative offices for the school.
Nearly two decades later in 2001, we saw the closing of New Life Academy. In 2002 and Home Assembly began leasing the G. Grady Benton Education Complex (GGBEC) to Community Harvest Charter School. Under the Los Angeles Unified School District, the school enrolled over 200 students in grades 6 - 12. In addition to hosting the school, Home Assembly continued to use the facility to offer enriching services for the whole family until the relocation to the Figueroa property.
Suffragan Bishop Benton did not take the job of feeding God's sheep lightly. He took the job entrusted to him by God so seriously, in fact, that he made preparations for succession of his pastorate. He wanted to ensure that should it become necessary for his pastorate to end, that God's people would be in the best of hands, with the sound continuance of the true
Dr. Vanessa Dantzler Ussery
1993 - 2011
Apostolic doctrine that he had been preaching and teaching for over 45 years. God led Bishop Benton to choose Evangelist Vanessa Wainwright Dantzler to be the vessel to be prepared to succeed him. On August 25, 1993, legal documentation was submitted naming Dr. Ussery as Senior Pastor. Her appointment marked an historic occasion for the Home Assembly, as she was the first female to pastor the "mother" church. However, in consideration of the lineage of this woman of God the appointment seems extremely apropos.
Dr. Vanessa Wainwright Dantzler Ussery is the daughter of the late Sherman Walter Wainwright and Sylvia Tolbert Wainwright. She is the eldest of three children; her sister Pamela Faye Martin and brother, Sherman Walter Wainwright II. She was saved at the tender age of eight and is the third generation of a long line of men and women who were trailblazers in the early days of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. (PAW). Her maternal grandparents were the late District Elder Lambert Tolbert, Sr. and Evangelist Claudia Tolbert, deceased. They were both saved in their early teens and joined in Holy Matrimony by the late Bishop G. T. Haywood, the first Presiding Bishop of the PAW. Her great-grandparents were Elder James and Sally Tolbert who in the early days of the PAW traveled extensively establishing churches throughout the country. Growing up it was her parents aim to train their children to be dedicated to God, so the home atmosphere was one of prayer and holiness.
While attending Occidental College in Eagle Rock, California, the Lord allowed the paths of two young people to cross, resulting in the union of Dr. Vanessa to Dr. Gregory Rochelle Dantzler. They were joined in holy matrimony on February 14, 1976 and to this union they were blessed with one son, Gregory II. "Doc" as he was affectionately called by family and members of the Home Assembly, passed away and entered into God's eternal rest on Wednesday, February 4, 2004. He was truly a man of God that expressed a great love for his wife, family and God's people. His legacy continues through the AFHA Nutrition and Physical Activity Program and the annual "Dr. Gregory R. Dantzler 'Master Your Health' Golf Tournament" held the 2nd Monday in April. Years later, the Lord sent a devoted companion with whom to share the balance of her life and on May 12, 2007, Dr. Vanessa and Mr. Charles Blakey Ussery, Jr. were married in Dana Point, CA in the presence of their immediate family.
God called Dr. Ussery to the ministry of preaching as a teenager and she preached her first sermon at youth service on Tuesday night in 1970. She became a licensed minister in 1980 and was ordained in 1992. She has been a faithful member of this church since September 1965. The odyssey with the church's leadership began for her in 1980 when Dr. Ussery accepted the position of personal secretary to the then Senior Pastor, G. Grady Benton. She served in this capacity until her promotion as Senior Pastor. She was also promoted within her tenure as Business Manager and Youth Director. By 1989, she had become the Executive Minister which required her to assume duties not only related to the finances of the church, but also those related to spiritual programs and activities.
After appointment as Senior Pastor in 1993, she continued to work faithfully in spearheading the project which resulted in the development of the G. Grady Benton Educational Complex. In addition, she remained active in all her church administrative duties, such as office manager, finance manager and church membership maintenance. On June 9, 1998, Suffragan Bishop G. Grady Benton officially passed the mantle to Dr. Ussery at an installation service officiated by Bishop Henry L. Johnson, Diocesan of the California District Council.
In the early 2000s, the church
endured financial hardships
through a series of changes
that affected the membership;
reducing the congregation size
from upwards of 600 to appx
300 individuals. As the smaller
congregation struggled with
the outstanding loan on the
property, Dr. Ussery began
praying for solutions and in
the mid 2000s the Lord spoke and told her that "the church was sitting on Debt Free". Believing the revelation God had given to Dr. Ussery, Rochelle Pegg (a devoted member and realtor) stepped up to assist the church in finding another location. After numerous obstacles, conflicts and challenges, on July 17, 2008, the Lord allowed us to simultaneously sell the Adams property for $10.5M and purchase the property at 13515 S. Figueroa Street for $5.2M, cash. With the proceeds from the sale, we paid off the $2M loan and other debts on the Adams property and used the balance to renovate a portion of the 40,000 sf building.
During construction, the church rented the auditorium at 135th Street School began holding Sunday morning worship there on October 8, 2008. During the Summer 2010, Dr. Ussery became ill and was unable to minister and called upon the Executive Minister, Pastor Marcus Jackson to preach Sunday sermons and teach Bible Study. Little did they know that this was God's transition plan to prepare the congregation for its new Senior Pastor, who had been in grooming for nearly a decade.
On January 30, 2011, Dr. Ussery announced God's transition plan at the annual church business meeting and advised that Pastor Marcus would now be the spiritual leader for Apostolic Faith Home Assembly, Inc. On October 14, 2011, Home Assembly Church hosted a Retirement Celebration for Dr. Ussery who is transitioning into other aspects of ministry. She is proud to have served more than a quarter of a century at Home Assembly; 18 of those years under the leadership of the late Bishop Benton. During her tenure at Home Assembly Church, she developed an agenda that included the church's motto "CHANGE: Come Have A New Growth Experience" (a registered trademark of Apostolic Faith Home Assembly, Inc.). This motto led her to establish Celebrate Change Ministries in 2010, under which she follows God's lead into expanded boarders and an extended reach to encourage, enlighten and empower more people.