ShareFest organizer sells orchard, enters Pittsburgh seminary
By ALLEN GEMAEHLICH
She felt led to be a pastor, but the timing never seemed right.
Sally Henry didn’t exactly desire to leave her post as the director of Connecting Ministries at First Presbyterian Church, either.
Then, something happened that made it crystal clear for her.
“The real clincher was just over a year ago when my husband had a heart attack,” Henry said.
The Henrys were home one evening after working in their Palisade fruit orchard when Kim started complaining of chest pain.
“You don’t know what’s happening,” she said. “He said, ‘I’m getting scared; we need to go.’ We started driving, and by the time we got to Clifton he was cold and clammy, so I stopped at the Clifton Fire Department and banged on the door. They must have been out on a call, so I thought, what do I do? Do I sit here, call 911 and watch him fade away or do we drive like hell down F Road. I was running lights, hoping a cop would see us and, of course, no cops. We made it to St. Mary’s (Hospital) in time. He ended up having two stents put in his heart.”
All of a sudden, having a peach orchard was overwhelming.
“The reality of (working the orchard) long-term had to be thought out again,” Henry said.
“It was my husband that said maybe now’s the time we should seriously think about you going to seminary.”
The 46-year-old Grand Junction woman leaves later this month to attend the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh.
The seminary was founded in 1794 and is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.
Orientation is Sept. 3.
The three-year graduate program requires more than study. Henry will work at a local church doing everything from leading a youth group to possibly preaching. She also will be required to complete three months work of hospice care.
“I am feeling a bit of excitement and a bit of terror,” Henry said. “It’s bittersweet. I’ve lived my entire adult life in the Grand Valley.”
After graduating from high school, she enrolled at Mesa State College in 1981 but got pregnant in her first semester.
“The first call I made was a collect call to my youth director at my church in Arvada,” she said. “The church was a big part of my life.”
Henry returned to Arvada set on being a single mom. She got a job with Mountain Bell, now Qwest, and met her husband in April 1982, got married in July and had her baby, Sarah, in August.
They were transferred to Grand Junction in 1988, and they became members of First Presbyterian Church, 3940 27 1/2 Road, in 1991.
Since then, she has felt a calling to become a pastor and was encouraged by the church congregation.
She enrolled at Mesa State College in 2000 and got her bachelor’s degree in sociology while raising her daughter, Sarah, and son, Sean.
She finished school and was hired as the director of Connecting Ministries in 2002.
“At the time I was hired, it was an interim title,” Henry said. “We weren’t sure it would be permanent. I was in charge of Christian education and outreach. Six months after I was hired, our pastor announced he was leaving.”
It left the church searching not only for a new pastor, but also for a new direction.
“We were taking a look at ourselves as a church and seeing if we were living what we said was important,” Henry said. “We looked at our calendar and our budget and took a fine-toothed comb to things and said, are we doing what we said we want to be doing?
Some of the answers were yes and some were no.”
Through all the uncertainty, Henry became the leader.
“She was the glue that kept us together,” church member Debbie Kolby said.
Two-and-a-half years later, Tom Hansen was hired as the pastor, in 2005.
“We’ve gone through a lot of change,” he said. “We had to answer some hard questions and needed a willingness to try new things and let some things go.”
Henry’s position not only remained intact, it grew.
“With Connecting Ministries, a lot of what I do is help people find their niche in the church, serving in some way,” Henry said. “I like helping people connect with God. I know in my own life, Jesus wasn’t real to me for a long time. There became a time when he became real. It made a big difference in my life. It’s not just a religion or going through motions.”
Henry helped form a mothers group and several small groups.
She started connecting churches to work with each other as well on community outreach programs.
“It didn’t make sense that we were all being little islands because we’re (churches are) called the body of Christ,” Henry said. “I read an article about ShareFest and thought that would be a cool thing for us to do. I made some connections with people I knew in other churches.”
The mission of ShareFest, according to the national organization, “is to engage churches, businesses, and other local organizations in comprehensive community-building programs and services that meet needs in the lives of children and families.”
ShareFest volunteers from area congregations spend one April weekend a year painting, hauling off garbage, repairing roofs and otherwise helping out those who need assistance with home repairs and yardwork.
Locally, the River of Life (Alliance) Church participated in ShareFest by themselves one year, Hansen said.
But on a broader scale, Henry was the one who “really initiated (ShareFest),” Hansen said. “My folks did something like it at their church in California. We kind of started chewing on it and then we started talking to other churches. We had four to six other churches interested in it. Literally less than two years ago, we got together with the four or five churches and last year it was 30-some churches. Even outside of churches people got involved.”
Henry’s role in outreach was cemented.
“We changed her title to this Connecting Ministries; we said it’s connecting churches, people together and God,” Hansen said.
Henry didn’t stop with ShareFest. She ignited a ministry to feed children without families at the homeless shelter and persuaded the church congregation to adopt Orchard Avenue Elementary as well.
“I had this dual role of loving her being on staff, and yet feeling a part of our job is to help people called to ministry to fulfill that call,” Hansen said. “We knew this was coming, and preparing, ‘How are we going to replace Sally?’ Yet she still had to sell these properties (home and orchard).
“I wrote in the May newsletter they’re going to be leaving, but they haven’t sold the property. Then about June, I thought, ‘They aren’t going to sell the property.’ Honestly, I was thrilled. The bad news is she’s not going to seminary. The good news is she staying here.”
Henry didn’t really mind.
“I’m cool if our house doesn’t sell, I love this job,” Henry said. “I’m cool to stay. I’m very comfortable.”
That, however, is often when God brings change to a person’s life, Hansen said.
“When you’re called by God it often dislocates you,” he said. “It’s not just what it does to them. It dislocates the church. It brings a transition to the church and a change you have to figure out. Ultimately, I totally celebrate that because they are pursuing God’s call.
“I do know as a pastor, there is a certain level of leadership and ability to influence at a larger level that Sally doesn’t have yet, but will as she goes through the process.”
Still, Hansen wondered about Henry’s level of commitment in her decision to leave.
“Just about the time I was thinking I need to ask her, Kim had a heart attack,” Hansen said. “I think I had a week of vacation and came back to a staff meeting and something came out of her mouth and I thought, ‘Oh, Sally’s back on track’ (to go to seminary).”
The Henrys finally sold their Palisade home and their 4½-acre orchard a few weeks ago.
The Henrys even have found a recently refurbished home near the seminary and secured a sale despite other bids for it.
“It all came together,” Henry said.
When she completes seminary, she hopes to start a new church near her children.
Sarah Nachman lives in Denver with her husband, Rob, and their son, Rilo. Sean Henry is a special education teacher at Grand Junction High School.