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Florida pastor recognized as distinguished evangelist

Florida pastor recognized as distinguished evangelist

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida pastor recognized as distinguished evangelist

By Larry Macke | Oct. 1, 2009 {1085}

NOTE: A headshot of the Rev. Jorge Acevedo is available at

Of the many ways to assess the vibrancy of a church, none may be more telling than worship attendance. Growth in this area suggests that the pastor, worship ministry team and congregation are doing something right.

Rev. Jorge Acevedo

Average attendance at Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., was 488 when the Rev. Jorge Acevedo was appointed as its senior pastor in 1996. By 2008 it had risen to 2,388 congregants spread among three campuses.

That growth is a key reason Acevedo has been recognized by The Foundation for Evangelism as the 2009 Distinguished Evangelist of The United Methodist Church.

Based in Lake Junaluska, N.C., The Foundation for Evangelism is an affiliate of the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church. Acevedo is the 20th recipient of the national award and the first hailing from Florida. He is also a past recipient of the Florida Conference Denman Evangelism Award, named for the late Harry Denman, who founded The Foundation for Evangelism in 1949. Acevedo will receive the award Oct. 31 during the Foundation’s 60th anniversary celebration.

Although the recognition brings focus to the individual, Acevedo insists on deflecting the spotlight.

“First and foremost, (our growth) is by the grace of God,” he said. “Anybody who experiences the favor of God knows that it’s not self-generated. Secondly, it’s been a dogged, tenacious commitment to the vision God gave us 15 years ago. Third, we have a host of amazing, gifted, and committed people.”

One of those committed people is Doug Whittaker. He and his wife have been members of the church for more than 11 years. Whittaker says he understands the reasons Acevedo received the recognition. They become apparent when he describes the pastor.

The Rev. Jorge Acevedo  and Bill Walker, former Florida Conference lay leader, confer during a plenary session at the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.  Photo by Tita Parham. File photo #08-0840. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0847, 05/6/08.

“Visionary, high-energy, passionate, focused. He has the ability to see the ideal, all the rich possibilities of something, communicate it and get people to buy into it,” Whittaker said. “He inspires people.”

An important focus of the church’s ministry is its Celebrate Recovery program for people recovering from a variety of addictions and “hurts, habits and hang ups,” Acevedo says about the ministry on the church’s Web site. The Rev. Rick Warren, author of the popular “Purpose Driven” books, and members of Saddleback Church in southern California, which Warren founded, launched the program 14 years ago to benefit their community and any others in need of it. Churches around the world are free to offer the Celebrate Recovery ministry to their communities with the Saddleback Church’s support and blessing.

More than 800 are involved in the program at the Cape Coral church. Participants meet every Friday night for dinner, large group worship, small group meetings and a coffee house for casual fellowship. Among the small groups offered are those for chemical addictions, but also food and sexual addictions and anger issues.

“The vision God gave us is this: ‘Lord, please send us the people that nobody else wants or sees,’ and often that has been the broken, the marginalized,” Acevedo said. “What we do with recovery, we do really, really well, but it doesn’t define who we are. That’s perhaps one-third of our congregation.”

The Distinguished Evangelist award is presented annually to a United Methodist clergy or lay leader whose life and ministry reflect a personal commitment to helping others experience God’s transforming love through Jesus Christ. The foundation seeks to promote Wesleyan evangelism that incorporates both the personal and social aspects of Christian faith.

“To me, evangelism absolutely is all about the individual and the social. It’s about fostering the redemption of individuals and enabling them to surrender to Jesus,” Acevedo said. “Wesley said there’s no holiness but social holiness, and this gets recognized in our ministries.”

Door greeter Brian Rankin (right) hugs another church member before worship at Grace Community Center. Photo by Sarah Alsgaard. File photo #09-1158. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #1007, 04/24/09.

That Wesleyan mandate is realized, in part, at the church’s newest campus, a 56,000-square foot supermarket in North Fort Myers that the church began renovating in 2007 after it had closed. The church launched Grace Community Center from that facility last year because it needed more worship space, but also to provide more holistic and multi-site ministry to the community’s poor and marginalized, Acevedo says. The center offers a Sunday morning service, but the rest of the week is dedicated to GED and parenting classes, the Celebrate Recovery program, free medical care for area residents, and a thrift shop and food bank.

The opportunities to serve and the tremendous growth of the church have enriched the faith journeys of the church’s other congregants, as well.

“(The growth) reaffirms for me that God can take normal people and literally work miraculous outcomes,” Whittaker says. “That is, when those normal people are willing to let Him do it and not get in His way.”

Pressed to react to his recognition, Acevedo says he’s humbled by it.

“It’s very special to be told by the leaders that you’re doing well because ministry can be really hard and really messy,” he says. “It also means that I serve with some amazing people. I’m just a follower, and I’m so grateful that I get to be a pilgrim with these people.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Macke is a freelance writer based in Vero Beach, Fla.