Meet twin brothers who are newly called bishops in the Atlanta area

Bishop Sebastian Van Dyke and Bishop Rafael Van Dyke were sustained within three weeks of each other

ATLANTA, Georgia — Twins Rafael and Sebastian Van Dyke have a lot in common. Most of their children are similar ages, and they each have one grandchild. They followed similar career paths into information technology. They have lived within a short drive of each other most of their lives. Many people can’t tell them apart.

And both are newly called bishops of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. 

“I kind of followed him a lot of the way, honestly, even from the womb. He’s older and he lets me know about it,” Bishop Sebastian Van Dyke says with a chuckle, sitting on the couch next to his brother who was born seven minutes before him. It’s a Sunday evening, and the two bishops and their families are going to have dinner together, as they often do. 

When Bishop Rafael Van Dyke is asked for his version of their story, he jokes, “He said it perfectly — he followed me. I’m the leader.”

“Hey, I was bishop first though,” Bishop Sebastian Van Dyke quips.

“I’ll let you have that one,” his brother concedes with a smile.

Bishop Rafael Van Dyke, left, and Bishop Sebastian Van Dyke laugh as they talk about their close relationship as brothers. They were both recently called as bishops of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. | Dustin Chambers, for the Church News

Bishop Sebastian Van Dyke was sustained as bishop of the Atlanta Ward, Atlanta Georgia Stake, on Feb. 26. Three weeks later, Bishop Rafael Van Dyke was sustained as bishop of the Woodstock Ward, Marietta Georgia Stake, on March 19. It was a calling neither of them expected but they know it came from the Lord.

“This is definitely His work. It’s not ours. That’s what I know for sure,” Bishop Rafael Van Dyke said.

Finding answers in the gospel of Jesus Christ

Growing up in Spring Lake, North Carolina, Bishop Sebastian Van Dyke remembers being picked up by a blue school bus every Sunday morning to go to First Baptist Church, along with several others from nearby neighborhoods.

“We learned a lot there, and it was a good congregation. But there were questions they couldn’t answer,” he said. “And it was two questions that I always had — where do we come from? And where are we going? No one could answer those questions.” 

When the boys were 15, their family moved to St. Augustine, Florida. Not long after, they met some Latter-day Saint youth and missionaries on the basketball court at the park. They became connected to a strong youth group and were baptized a few months later.

Twin brothers Rafael and Sebastian Van Dyke pose for a photo with Elder Johnson, the missionary who baptized them in St. Augustine, Florida. The brothers were baptized at age 15. | Provided by Cassie Van Dyke

“When I saw the plan of salvation, that’s when I knew, ‘OK, this church has the answers.’ I may not like the culture, maybe these guys are a little bit corny, maybe they dress weird, but I said, ‘You know what, they got the answers,’” Bishop Sebastian Van Dyke recalled. 

“I held on to that for a long time until I could learn more. And [the Church] continues to have the answers that no one else has. That eventually became my testimony and what I’ve built my faith on.”

As the brothers progressed in their gospel journey, they faced challenges as minorities in the Church. For Bishop Sebastian Van Dyke, “It was a struggle for me. I had to really dig deep sometimes to keep coming back. … But the thing that kept me coming every Sunday was my testimony.”

That empathy, Cassie Van Dyke said, is what makes her husband a great bishop of their inner-city ward.

“I would say our ward is about 70% Black, and it is filled with adult converts — people who have been raised Southern Baptist and Pentecostal and been part of that deep, rich Bible belt and then joined the Church more recently. So they bring their traditions and they bring their culture with them, and he’s like, ‘Bring it on. Let’s do this. Let’s make this a place where everyone is welcomed, where everyone feels loved, as long as it brings us closer to the Lord,’” Cassie Van Dyke said.

Bishop Sebastian Van Dyke, left, listens to his wife, Cassie Van Dyke, talk about their experiences in the Atlanta Ward, Atlanta Georgia Stake. Their son Devon also listens in on the conversation. | Dustin Chambers, for the Church News

President Peter Bennion, president of the Atlanta Georgia Stake, commented on how Bishop Sebastian Van Dyke applies the first and second great commandments — love God and love others — in the sequence the Savior taught them.

“Bishop Van Dyke has many gifts. He faces the Lord, but he loves his flock and is focused on lifting the one. He’s a natural missionary and a gifted unifier. The Atlanta Ward is seeing significant missionary success, and Bishop Van Dyke’s warmth and personal touch is a key part to that growth,” President Bennion said. 

More than breaking down stereotypes

About 35 miles north of downtown Atlanta, Bishop Rafael Van Dyke presides over a ward that is predominantly Caucasian. “There’s many that have been waiting for this because it’s a milestone for them to see a Black bishop, particularly in this stake. So it’s a moment of almost celebration for them,” he said.

“My goal is to make sure everyone feels loved. We talk a lot about diversity, but our ward is also diverse. There’s diverse backgrounds and thoughts and things. There’s a lot of members of the Church out there struggling because they think there is this mold that they have to fit in.”

One of Bishop Rafael Van Dyke’s highest priorities is helping ward members — especially the youth — know that the Lord loves them the way they are. “They can serve the way they are. And just because of whatever makes them different, that doesn’t mean that Heavenly Father doesn’t want them,” he said.

Bishop Rafael Van Dyke, right, listens to his wife, Tracey Van Dyke, talk about his sincere love for the Woodstock Ward, Marietta Georgia Stake. Bishop Rafael Van Dyke was sustained as bishop on March 19, 2023. | Dustin Chambers, for the Church News

Tracey Van Dyke, Bishop Rafael Van Dyke’s wife, said she has watched some members of their ward slowly lose morale since the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people have suffered and are hurting. Some seem to be going through the motions, struggling to feel connected. She believes her husband was called at this time because of his sincere love.

“Being called and being a Black bishop, that gives a chance to break down stereotypes … but it’s more than just the diversity. It’s his great love and willingness to serve and perhaps to bring us hopefully back together through healing and through Christ-like love,” Tracey Van Dyke said. “I hope at the end of his time as bishop that we can be much more unified not only in the gospel, but as a congregation and as friends in the gospel.”

Bishop Rafael Van Dyke’s ability to love is something President James Watson, president of the Marietta Georgia Stake, has witnessed as well. 

“He loves as the Savior in every interaction with members of his ward and others,” President Watson said. “He is always offering a genuine smile and hug, regardless of time, place or circumstance. And he serves as the Savior with gentleness and encouragement to others, especially the youth or members struggling to connect with their Heavenly Father. Bishop Rafael Van Dyke ministers in his every action of the day.”

‘This gospel has made us better’

Reflecting on the opportunity he and his brother have to serve as bishops, Bishop Rafael Van Dyke expressed gratitude for the countless individuals who have supported them since the day they were baptized in St. Augustine.

Twin brothers Bishop Rafael Van Dyke and Bishop Sebastian Van Dyke pose for a photo in Canton, Georgia, on May 28, 2023. | Dustin Chambers, for the Church News

“This gospel has made us better than we could have been on our own. … Thank you to anyone out there that has had a hand in where we are. I’m grateful for those who had the courage to call us. It’s not easy, but I’m grateful for their courage and for their support. We have a lot of support. It’s a privilege,” Bishop Rafael Van Dyke said.

And the brothers are grateful to serve together. Cassie Van Dyke could see the relief on her husband’s face when he found out his brother was also called as a bishop. “It was just like, ‘OK, now I can do this because now I’ve got my brother.’ … Heavenly Father knows that they need each other and that they do everything together. And this will make them both much better bishops,” she said.

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