By Joyce Coronel
Desmond Wadsworth, or “Pastor Des” as he’s known to his flock at Grace Community Church, is anything but your typical pastor.
The self-described maverick with a British accent has led the Tempe church for the last 18 months.
Born in Australia, he spent the first eight years of his life Down Under until his parents decided to move back to England to care for his aging grandparents.
He remembers sitting in the airport, not too happily, and his father reassuring him. “My dad said, ‘Don’t worry, son, we’ll be back. When your grandparents have died we’ll be back.’ My last grandparent didn’t die until I was 25,” Wadsworth said. By then, he’d already become a minister, having preached his first sermon at the tender age of 19. The road to that sacred calling was a bit circuitous.
At age 10, he realized that “next to zero” of his classmates went to church and that if they did, they’d never admit it. He felt bored at church and started feigning sickness on Sunday mornings.
“At age 13, my parents basically said, ‘We’re going to stop demanding that you come to church but you need to decide for yourself what you believe.’ I didn’t see it coming. It threw me,” Wadsworth said. “I was pretty sure there was a God. I knew my parents weren’t weird or boring. It was real to them, but it was nothing personal to me.”
After attending a youth event, he heard the Gospel message in a powerful, new way and experienced a breakthrough. “They presented the Gospel in my language. I said, ‘I get it. I’m in.’”
Life didn’t change much for him until he went to college. He came to know a classmate whose example of faith made a strong impression.
“He was a guy who walked with Jesus—he lived differently.” Wadsworth said he realized that his new friend had something exceptional—something he wanted. “That’s when I really prayed about going all in and being a follower of Jesus.”
He remembers riding his bike to class every day and praying the same prayer: I’ll go wherever you tell me to go. I’ll be whatever you want me to be. I’ll do whatever you want me to do. At 17, he was fully committed. Interestingly, he never attended seminary. Instead, his pastor, a graduate of the famed Spurgeon’s College in London, saw potential in Wadsworth and took him under his wing.
“Everything I learned I’m going to teach you,” he told Wadsworth. For eight years, they met weekly. Later on, Wadsworth enrolled in correspondence courses with the London Bible College to continue his education.
He served six years with Youth for Christ, evangelizing high school students. He then spent 10 years as a youth pastor and ultimately became lead pastor. He and his wife, Melanie, have four children and live in South Tempe.
So how did they wind up at Grace Community Church? A friend suggested Wadsworth might be called to ministry in the U.S. Melanie had never lived more than 12 miles from her parents, however, and was dead-set against a move. The couple took a full month to pray about the decision. Wadsworth said his prayer at age 17 about going wherever God would send him kept resurfacing.
Melanie told God a move to the U.S. was too painful and that she would only do it if he told them clearly that it was his will, Wadsworth said. At that point, they were studying the Book of Acts. When Melanie came to Acts 7:3, she had her clear indication. The verse pointed to God’s command to Abraham to “leave your country and your people and go to the land that I will show you.”
It was a defining moment.
“That has been our anchor,” Wadsworth said. “We stand on that.” His wife, he said, has experienced acute homesickness but is adjusting to the change.
During his first year as pastor, Wadsworth said he did a lot of listening. He wanted to discover the church’s identity and how it began. He met with the founding pastor, the late Guy Davidson, and his wife Martha, and learned that Grace’s “DNA” is all about community. The church is redoubling its efforts to expand its reach into the area.
He also insists on an effort to embrace those who haven’t yet connected with a church. “My heart is that everybody is able to worship God passionately here. There’s no one size fits all on that,” Wadsworth said. “I want people to walk in and walk out transformed.
“God has something specifically to say to you today. That’s mind-blowing.”