Leslie and I met through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at William & Mary when we were sophomores. I was greeting people and writing name tags and I tried to be cool and pretend like I wasn’t sure I knew her name, “Leslie, right?” But I totally did. And she knew mine.
We were both active in IV. I ran the Friday night Large Group meetings one year, while Leslie ran the Council for Promoting Christian Unity. We each had experience with a number of denominations and Christian faith traditions. Leslie’s mom joined the Catholic church when Leslie was in high school. I was raised a Presbyterian but came to know Jesus in a non-denominational youth group and had some close Catholic friends. IV was a great fit for me. I loved the fact that my small group leaders were from different backgrounds (Catholic and Baptist) but both loved Jesus.
After graduating from college, we got married and lived for a year in Williamsburg. Leslie got her start in the world of HR working as an admin at a recruiting agency. I taught Spanish at a local Christian high school and learned the value of a teaching degree (which I did not have). I got into Princeton Theological Seminary (affiliated with the PCUSA) and was blessed to be able to go for almost no cost since I grew up in the denomination.
Growing up I used to rag on New Jersey just like any responsible Pennsylvanian kid should, but I have to admit that we had a pretty good time there. God blessed us with a job for Leslie at a medical device company that really got her career in HR moving. I mean it when I say that the job was a blessing; 2008-2009 was not a great time to get a job! I was able to take classes with some terrific professors. I discovered that Reformed Theology (via John Calvin of the 1500s and Karl Barth of the 1900s) was a great fit for me and my understanding of how God reveals himself to us through Jesus. I also had two incredibly meaningful practical education experiences as a seminary intern at a church and also as a hospital chaplain on a pediatric wing of a large hospital. Leslie and I were blessed with some terrific friends and community.
As seminary drew to a close, I accepted a call to be an Associate Pastor for Youth & Families at the First Presbyterian Church of Carson City, Nevada. What a blessing! I got to work with Pastor Bruce Kochsmeier and a terrific staff and church family. I could see the whole time how God’s Holy Spirit was working to challenge me as a young pastor and a disciple of Jesus. My biggest responsibility was the youth group, and it was a so much fun to grow up with the kids.
We first heard about church planting at a conference in California. Pete Santucci of Bend, OR (one of ECO’s first church planters) shared some interesting statistics about how new church plants tend to be made up of a higher percentage of people who were new to the faith – not just transfers from other churches. In other words, new churches reach new people for the gospel. We didn’t know anything about church planting at the time, but we knew we wanted to reach new people.
A few months later, we learned about something called “Church Planting Assessment” – a step in the selection process for becoming an official planter for ECO (a new Presbyterian denomination). Leslie and I were happy in Nevada and getting a lot of opportunities to do meaningful things – including being new parents to Lucy (born Feb 2013)! We figured that Assessment would be a good way for us to learn more about church planting and if it could be something for us in the future. We were right. Assessment was the first time that we felt like who we were individually and as a family were thoroughly examined for the sake of determining a path to sustainable ministry.
As time went on, we learned more about starting new churches and about “missional communities” in particular. Thanks to my involvement in Assessment, the ECO national leadership invited me to participate in a learning cohort called “Future Travelers” through Exponential. I had a fantastic time visiting churches (RiverTree, Soma, Austin Stone) around the country who were asking foundational questions about shared life as God’s people and trying new things.
Leslie and I spent a long time thinking and talking and praying about all these things. We welcomed our second daughter, Mabel, to the family in March 2015. Discernment is a tricky thing. Our number one priority was doing whatever God wanted us to do, but it takes a lot of prayer to move from a good spot to an unknown one. We were both getting to do some great stuff in Carson City. The youth group was growing and Leslie was comfortable in her HR job. But as we continued to think about our future, it became more and more clear that the only way we could balance two careers and raising a family was to move closer to family support. Austin made a lot of sense for our next step. Leslie came across a neat job opportunity at Noonday Collections (a fair-trade jewelry and accessories retailer), applied, and got the job. We were off!
And now we are here in Austin. We want Austin to be a better place because we are here. We are confident that the message of Jesus’ redemption and new life will bring real hope to people here. We’re still getting settled, but God has already opened doors for friendship and connection with people in ways that are really encouraging. We’d love your prayers as we build new relationships and prayerfully look for a neighborhood to call our home!