Pastor steps down after 12 years with ‘this wonderful church’
If she still was undecided, hearing the story of the stained glass sealed her decision.
When the Rev. Sharyl Peterson visited First Congregational Church in Grand Junction to decide if she was interested in becoming its pastor, church members told her about how Harold Hamel, a stained glass hobbyist, marshaled a team of retired geologists and engineers and businessmen to replace the sanctuary’s plain beige glass.
He taught them from square one, and through determination, perseverance and faith, this team of new artists created something beautiful.
The story symbolized the church, and on July 9, 2001, Peterson became its first female pastor. On Jan. 27, she will step down, 12 years wiser and with vast, rich experiences that she credits to “this wonderful church, these wonderful people and this beautiful community.”
Peterson, 61, entered the ministry as a second career. Her first — she jokes that she’s lived her life in 20-year increments — was in higher education, teaching psychology and counseling. She and her husband, Bob, lived in Colorado Springs, where she worked at Colorado College and they both volunteered at their church.
They volunteered so much, in fact, that someone suggested Peterson consider the ministry “and I fell on the floor laughing,” she remembered. “It had never crossed my mind.”
But on a lark, she took a seminary class in pastoral theology and care in Denver, and then another and another. She ended up a full-time theology student, following which she worked with two community churches in Denver and as a chaplain in a hospital for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Her faith and passion for social justice led her to the Congregational Church, a branch of the United Church of Christ, and when the seat came open at First Congregational Church in Grand Junction, she was asked to consider it. Never in a billion years, she vowed; she and Bob loved big cities and vibrant arts communities and…
And then the story of the stained glass. And the vitality of the church, and the Grand Junction community. She said yes, and now Grand Junction is home.
In her time as pastor of the church, long-time members have died and new ones have joined. She’s counseled the grieving, officiated at weddings and been part of the church’s involvement in social welfare programs throughout the Grand Valley. The church has about 225 members, 125–150 of whom regularly attend Sunday services.
“It’s a healthy church,” she said. “I’m leaving a healthy church, and I feel good about that.”
“She’s brought a lot of us through grief and difficult passages in our lives,” said long-time church member Ellen Bradley. “Her sermons are very down-to-earth, things that people can take with them through the week and apply to their lives. She has a way of being able to relate to what’s going on in people’s lives and she’s not afraid to tackle the difficult topics.”
Peterson said after stepping down from the church, she’ll resume a counseling practice and remain involved in community service.
There will be a reception to honor her from 4:30–7 p.m. Jan. 26 at First Congregational Church, 1425 N. Fifth St. The public is invited to attend.