On December 29, 2004 Vancouver Avenue voted to elect J.W. Matt Hennessee as their third full-time pastor. At the time he had served for sixteen years as the Associate Pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church under the leadership of Senior Pastor James C.E. Faulkner.
Pastor Hennessee assumed his leadership role at Vancouver Avenue on Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, January 15, 2005. He was ecstatic to be elected and looked forward to working with the leadership and membership of Vancouver Avenue to chart a fun, spirit-filled, and dynamic course.
That is exactly what happened. The church invested in the music ministry adding four new choirs, creating new classes in Sunday School, re-vamped Bible Study and Prayer Meeting, and added a morning service. He assumed the legacy of the late Dr. O.B. Williams by assuring his place in history was celebrated and honored including the naming of the Fellowship Hall in memory of he and his late wife, First Lady Willia Williams.
The Vancouver Avenue and Pastor Hennessee partnership added many people to the church in membership, brought home many people, and revamped Church Business Meetings and implemented the first Church budget in 2009. Today the church still operates within a budget and the Finance Committee, Joint Board, and Membership have followed the lead of the Pastor and agreed to have a professional CPA firm audit the church’s financial records each year to assure the veracity and integrity of the church’s system.
Education, youth and young adult development & growth, community involvement, and social justice have been a great emphasis of Pastor Hennessee and Vancouver Avenue during his tenure. The Drum Major Ecumenical Service was implemented in 2007 celebrating the lives and legacies of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, Mrs. Rosa L. Parks, and Ms. Yolanda D. King bringing together people from all off the Portland area community commemorating their lives.
The Salute to Greatness Service was instituted to award many people in the Portland area who have been “Drum Majors” in their own right and in recent years providing opportunities to celebrate the lives of young people, particularly those not a part of Vancouver Avenue who graduate from alternative schools encouraging them to do great things with their lives. Their stories have been amazingly inspiring and each of them have been a great tribute to 21st Century youth who are determined to succeed against all odds.
In addition to all of this Pastor Hennessee and Vancouver Avenue have revamped the governance process, upgraded the church’s by-laws, and invested in renovating the church building and grounds. Under this initiative the Joint Board of Deacons, Trustees, and Deaconesses agreed to add an elevator; renovate the Sanctuary, church office, the Fellowship Hall; added trees, lighting, awnings, and railings on the exterior; and repaired many areas of the church that had been identified for several years.
Pastor Hennessee has always believed the church, meaning any church, cannot sustain itself in the long run by depending only on tithes and offerings. He has worked with the church to develop streams of rental income and has plans to create other streams of income to assure future generations of the church will be able to dream and invest in their dreams. In his years of leadership Pastor Hennessee purposely refused to add to the church’s long-term debt and working with the church has kept the church debt-free since 2007.
On a personal note Pastor Hennessee has been blessed to live a life full of many successes which he doesn’t always like to speak of. It is his nature to applaud and punctuate the great successes others do, but not what he has done. He has had a stellar career in public service in Ohio, Michigan, and Oregon. He has been involved in leadership of international private business and private pre-school education services. He served as a Trustee for nine years at a private Christian college in California.
For the past several years Pastor Hennessee has worked intently with a group of men to reduce gang violence in Portland. Working with area law enforcement agencies their efforts have reduced crime from since 2011 by over 50%.
Pastor Hennessee is known to keep long hours taking care of his flock by checking in on them by phone, visitation in hospitals and skilled nursing centers, and attending student graduations. He has married a number of couples and serves as a mentor and advisor to the Associate Ministers. He continues to train the ministerial staff in developing sermons, blessing homes, conducting home going-services, weddings, and all aspects of pastoral leadership including budgeting and business planning.
He loves to travel nationally and internationally, loves people, has a heart and passion for social justice wishing to see the barriers between people destroyed. He lends his hand and heart in all ways he can. He is a father, grandfather, and a person who has not ever met any youth or young adult that he did not “adopt” as his own.
Pastor Hennessee hopes to leave a legacy of increased Biblical literacy, community involvement, financial sustainability, a creative leader with a heart for people, a love for God, and a belief everyone matters.