“I knew that it was what I was supposed to do with my life,” said Eric.
Jessica was born in Denver, Colorado and moved to Wyoming at the age of three. Her parents accepted a call from the church in Ten Sleep, Wyoming when she was 12 and served there for 13 years. Her mission’s career began with week long trips to Casper serving with World Changers, it was at one of these week long events that God called her to the ministry. After graduation she was able to go on a trip with International World Changers to Ecuador and attend a two week training at Summit Ministries in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Between her sophomore and junior year at YBC, she served as a summer missionary to Treasure State Association doing children’s ministry.
They met at YBC when Eric was asking for prayer for the Park City AWANA group. They badly needed workers. “I went up to Eric and told him I wanted to help with the group. He just looked at me with this blank look and I wondered if he didn’t want me to help,” laughs Jessica. “Then he told me that his mother would provide dinner every week and I was all in.”
“What she didn’t know was I thought she was the most beautiful girl on campus and I was struck speechless when she was talking to me,” Eric replied. “We were engaged the spring semester of our senior year.”
They were married on September 1, 2007, and now have three children: Kay Marie (4), Caleb Corban (3) and Katey Danielle (1). Both received BA degrees in Christian Leadership with an emphasis in Church Planting.
Eric did his senior internship as the youth leader in Laurel and went on staff in January of 2007 where he served until February 2009. The family was called to plant a church in Townsend in 2009 and Eric also served as interim pastor for the Ennis church from February to May 2010. Elkhorn Community Fellowship held its first service in Townsend on New Year’s Day, 2011.
“Everything I have ever done has been bi-vocational. I knew within a month of moving to Townsend that being bi-vocational would be the only way we could stay in Townsend. We didn’t have kids then but we knew we couldn’t last without another income,” states Eric. “I worked at a boot shop in Helena for a year, then the local hardware store for almost six years, and am currently working for Broadwater County in Maintenance.
As many pastors will affirm, being bi-vocational is not easy for the pastor or his family. When asked how he continues to do it, Eric became very thoughtful.
“I know I don’t do the best job at this but I try to make her and the kids a priority. Many people think time at home is to do other things, when I am home I try really hard to be home. If I have to work on a sermon I go to the church”, Eric reflected.
Jessica added, “He is really good at piggybacking stuff. He does everything before he comes home so that when he is home he spending time with the family and doing things with his family. It takes patience on my part, if he could be home he would be. Understanding that he is doing the best he can, I find other outlets to work on the stress of him being gone so much. I like running, calling a safe place, doing a hobby, playing with the kids, and calling my family. It is important to build myself a support system outside of my husband, women are more social creatures by nature. I am a stay at home mom so have to make it a priority to build relationships on purpose, to have friends and acquaintances both in and out of church and in and out of town. Montana Ministry Wives Facebook page has been huge in staying connected, meeting new people and praying for each other.”
“I make it work because I have a wife who bails me out all the time,” Eric says with a smile. “Really, I couldn’t do it without her.”
He continued, “In a small town I pastor the community, and since Townsend is the county seat I pastor the entire county. Small church ministry is some of the most rewarding work we can ever have. Small churches have a huge impact on smaller communities, I saw it in Park City growing up. When I was young, a teenager committed suicide and the Park City Church was asked to hold the funeral. The church was packed and the entire community was there. It had a profound impact on the community through the church reaching out in ministry and serving the family of that young person.”
Townsend has lost several young people in the last couple of years including two teens killed in a car wreck and the tragic death of their high school quarterback. Being part of the community enables people to turn to him even if they don’t attend the church.
“I’m available, I have credibility with them through the organizations we are in and we care. I checked on all of my kids when two of our town kids were killed in a car wreck in the fall of 2015.” Eric states. “Being available leads to my biggest challenge-time management.”
Time is in short supply for both Eric and Jessica. During the year he helps with “Shoot for the Cure” which raises money for breast cancer research through the Susan G. Komen Foundation, holds a fulltime job at the county, is on the board of the Broadwater County Search and Rescue, and in February became the chaplain for the county. In his spare time he cut 75 cords of wood for local area residents.
“As a chaplain I will be there for death notifications, at house fires to comfort the families, ride along with members of the sheriff’s department, am there for debriefing of emergency workers. The complete job description is being developed as there hasn’t been a chaplain in a while. It covers the EMTs, Search and Rescue, Fire Department and the Sheriff’s Department,” explains Eric. It is pretty open-ended now.
Besides enjoying being a Mary Kay Consultant and the Fair Manager for the Broadwater County Fair, Jessica leads TeamKid, the praise band, nursery, and is the church secretary. She loves to read, quilt, hunt and do crazy random stuff with her family. “We just decide to take off and go when time permits. We love movie date nights, swimming with the kids and hunting together,” Jessica says with a grin. “You make time when your life is so busy to be a family.”
The church has several growing ministries. All of their TeamKid were there at once last week and they received a very special gift from one of the families.
“We received a thank you card from a mother of one of our TeamKid. She wrote to tell us thank you for the time you are investing in our children.” Jessica said with great emotion. “The program gives out Gideon New Testaments at Backyard Bible Cubs. Every night this child insists that his mother read a Proverb out it. The mother though it was a phase but 4 months later he was still doing it. So she wrote to let us know his life had been changed and he had a desire for God’s Word.”
Another way their church has been a joyful blessing is potlucks. “They are always on the request list for activities and everyone loves them,” Jess relates. “For me, I love the praise team practice and Sunday morning service time. It lets me praise the Lord three times a week and that is really cool!”
Elkhorn Community Fellowship is currently enjoying outreach in many different forms: TeamKid, a youth group, small group ministry, fair ministry in the form of cleaning up the grounds and running a diaper changing tent. Mission teams have come to help with Backyard Bible Clubs but Fall Fest is a special time when LifeWay Church of Billings brings their youth and joins them in manning the Rockwall. It is a great chance for the youth in Townsend to know that there are other Christian youth out there and they are not alone. Eric and Jessica also help with Slice of Summer three times a summer. They held one sports camp and would love to have the chance to do another one.
When asked if there are there outreach ministries they are planning that the church would need special supplies or volunteers for in the future, Eric replied, “We are looking forward to try and do more sports camps to relate to the people in our area. In the last 3 years we have had state championship teams from Townsend in basketball, football, and tennis. We have very athletic community and it would be a great avenue to reach out to them. Anyone interested in helping or contributing please contact us at 1-406-949-0057.
Small town ministry and bi-vocationalism are not just a stepping stone for Eric and Jessica to a larger church. It is a way of life that pastors and their wives all over Montana are making work through long hours and great sacrifice. If your church would like to come along beside a small church and help financially or in any other way, please contact the state office.