Religious Leaders at Lunch

By Anne Gibson 

 It was 25 years ago that Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker and former Community Services Coordinator Rosemary McCain invited the clergy serving the greater Vail area to lunch; four attended. The quarterly lunches continue today.  The difference is at the first luncheon of 2019 hosted by Father Martin Martinez at St. Rita’s in the Desert Catholic Church, over 35 clergy, school staff, and community members were present. “We knew there were significant differences between the churches and the schools. There were also significant differences among the various churches. However, the school district, and all of the churches, had one thing in common; we wanted strong/healthy families and a strong/healthy community.  At our first meeting, we agreed to focus on the things that unite us, not the things that divide us. We have intentionally upheld that belief throughout the many years,” said Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker. 

 Along with sharing information and providing support to each other, the group decided to put on an annual family conference. The primary purpose of the conference was to demonstrate both the community, and ourselves, that we could actually do something positive and important together - despite our differences. The conference has developed into a much bigger and broader “family university” that provides teaching on many different topics, along with providing backpacks, haircuts, and other new school year needs to students whose families might not be able afford them, Baker said.  

 “I have the opportunity to serve on the Vail Family University and be a part of the Vail Religious Leaders Luncheon.  We all know that, ‘As goes the family … so goes the community.’ As a pastor and part of a church full of families, we care deeply about both our community and families.  Serving on the Vail Family University (for 5 years now) has allowed me to work with amazing people that also care about families and the community.  Our goal is to partner together to serve, provide help, train, and provide resources to strengthen and encourage families right here in our area,” said Lead Pastor Jeff Vanderford of Authentic Life Church. Authentic Life Church meets at Vail Academy and High School with worship at 10:30 AM.  

 “The Vail Religious Leaders Luncheon provides an opportunity to actively partner with the Vail School District to serve families and children. One of the core values at Oasis is sacrificial service, which we define as generously serving those God places in our path. In fact, we measure our success at Oasis by evaluating whether we live with open hands – giving and serving generously because God generously serves us. One of our favorite ways to serve families is through Vail Family University where we have an opportunity to serve families by helping develop healthy parents, who in turn develop healthy kids,” added Pastor David Gainey of Oasis that meets at Desert Sky Middle School on Sundays at 8:30 AM and 10:30 AM. 

 “I’m in my 8th year of serving on the committee planning for the Vail Family University.  The motto of Corona de Tucson Baptist Church, where I serve as pastor, is ‘A Small Church with a Big Heart.’  It’s satisfying to benefit Vail residents with quality speakers providing insights relevant to many current needs and to provide students with school supplies and personal hygiene services they might otherwise lack.  Volunteer activities (40+ hours each year), on behalf of the Vail School District, allows this small church pastor to have a much bigger impact for good upon the Vail community than could ever be achieved through my church alone,” said Pastor Rick Huff of the Corona de Tucson Baptist Church. Located on Houghton Road in Corona de Tucson, Sunday services are held at 11:00 AM.     

 The Vail Religious Leaders Luncheon, through the Vail Family University, provides an annual conference offered at no charge to the public. The conference includes a guest speaker and specialized breakout sessions. Two subcommittees comprise the university. The first sub-committee supports the conference with a Back to School Resource Fair that is focused to prepare students for the coming school year and the second sub-committee is “Vail Serves Vail” and focuses on community service and community resource connections. The dollars from the district facility usage/rental fees along with donations cover the expenses of the Vail Religious Leaders Luncheons and its subcommittees. No tax dollars are used, explained Heather Stough, Vail School District Community and Connections Director who coordinates the program.

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Anne Gibson