From math to ministry: SOT alum serves families in Arizona

Tue, 2007-06-19 10:20 -- univcomm
June 19, 2007

Allan Fuller is more than a decade beyond his graduation from the University of Alberta, where he majored in mathematics and minored in physics, but he still describes himself as a geek [Editor’s note: Fuller graduated from the Anderson University School of Theology in 1997 with a Master of Divinity]. His 1300 parishioners at Mountain Park Community Church, 2804 E. Pecos Road, simply refer to him as their pastor. But this 35 year-old father of three small children is both; and the blending of his former and present lives has been well received as he's shepherded the local congregation for the past year and a half.

What prompted the transition from mathematician to senior pastor?

"That's one of those answers where I can do a one minute version - or a one-hour version because it's such a big deal to me," he said.

"But basically it turned on a summer camp I went to the summer before I graduated from college."

Opting for the shorter account, Fuller recounted how, as a counselor at a church camp that summer before his senior year, he had a heart-felt epiphany while strumming his guitar and leading songs around the campfires.

"I realized I was having such a positive impact on people that summer, and I thought, 'I've never had this much fulfillment in my life,'" Fuller recalled.

"I thought 'what pathway would offer the greatest percentage of that', and the answer for me was full-time ministry."

Following graduation, the Edmonton, Alberta, Canada native interned as a pastor of worship and young adults in Virginia, but realized though he had the passion, he needed a more solidified base of Bible knowledge to better serve.

He attended seminary at the Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana, all the while working part-time gigs at three different churches: a worship leader at a fledgling church in Indianapolis; a worship intern at North Anderson Church of God, and as the youth band leader at Church at the Crossing in Indianapolis.

Wherever he went, his battered guitar case was in hand. Even now, sitting in his wood-paneled, book-lined office where pictures of his wife and three children are prominently displayed along with action figures of the 2002 Canadian Hockey Gold Medal winners; his guitar case nestles by his desk.

"Music is important to me, even here in the office. I pull it out and worship on my own," he said. Fuller sometimes ends a Sunday morning service by perching on a high stool and singing a song, accompanying himself on his guitar.

An avid ice hockey fan since childhood, Fuller was thrilled to have fellow Canadian Wayne Gretzky as another Valley transplant. Gretzky was the Executive Director for the winning 2002 Canadian Hockey Team.

"I'm a hardcore Edmonton Oilers fan, but since I'm committed to Phoenix, I'm enthusiastically growing in my commitment to the Coyotes," he said. "I think Gretzky is one of the greatest athletes God has ever created, and yes, I know this is a little presumptuous because I know little about the original Greek athletes in the Olympics, and I hope the Coyotes organization gives him time to translate his expertise to his team."

To see Pastor Fuller lead a 9:15 or 10:45 Sunday morning service in the large Mountain Park auditorium is to see a young man comfortable in his own skin. Wearing faded but pressed jeans, a long-sleeved, striped shirt - tail out, over a white t-shirt, Pastor Fuller doesn't look like your parent's Sunday morning minister.

But most of the casually-dressed audience of young parents, singles, teens and even grandparents relate.

"I do get some resistance that says this style is inappropriate, but I understand that comes from a tradition that says you must dress up to go to church to show reverence to God. I hope to communicate through my actions that we're all able to 'come as you are' to church and to God," he said. "I take God seriously; I just don't take myself too seriously."

Whether addressing the congregation or conversing one on one, Fuller's sense of humor is evident - he likes to laugh and likes to see others do it, too.

"My sense of humor - well, people either enjoy it or graciously tolerate it," he laughed. "But I believe humor is a powerful way, as a communicator, to connect with a broad range of age groups. For me, humor is not a way to avoid the deep stuff - it's a path to the deep stuff."

Fuller, who bikes and hikes South Mountain with his family, says he loves living in Ahwatukee and considers it a "blessing" to be here, even though summer's triple digits are in stark contrast to Canadian temperatures.

"Really, I feel like I'm on a one and a half year vacation - other than this 45 hour work week," he laughed. "I think Ahwatukee is unique in the nation - I mean to have such a genuine community feel in a large city - its incredible. And when I watch the sun set behind South Mountain - I literally say to myself, wow, I get to live here!"

Fuller is much the family man. He met his wife Tami when he was volunteering at a small ministerial college in rural Kenya the year prior to his senior year at graduate school. She came with her mother for a two-week work mission prior to her college senior year. The two have three children: Gordon, 6, Martin, 4 and Lila 1.

And it is for Ahwatukee families that Fuller feels is why he was brought to Arizona.

"Within months of my coming here, I realized God brought me here to fight for families," he said. "My hope is that Mountain Park can earn a reputation in this community as a place where you can come if you're struggling. I want to respond as a church to give hope and the tools to a pathway towards health and wholeness."

--- Writer Coty Dolores Miranda is a reporter for the Arizona Republic

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 60 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.