BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — On the surface, the two congregations couldn’t be more different.
Glass City Church is younger and contemporary while Faith Community United Church of Christ is older and more traditional.
Rev. Jeff Lavalette is celebrating those differences and finding similarities as he preaches on the Bible and ministers to both churches – after joining Faith Community as pastor earlier this year.
“He fits in well. We really like him a lot, and he seems to get us, even though it’s such a difference from his other church,” said Charlene Reese, a longtime member of Faith Community on Anderson Street in Maumee.
“I love it here. It’s a completely different church in terms of culture and age,” said Lavalette, who is 43. “So, most of my pop culture references play well here. If I throw out a M*A*S*H reference there, I get crickets.”
Pastoring two churches wasn’t on Lavalette’s radar until his neighbor asked if he knew of someone looking for a job after Faith’s longtime pastor, Rev. Scott Kaufman, retired earlier this year. Instead of suggesting a name, Lavalette interviewed for the job.
Two changes he agreed to when he finishes the 10:00 a.m. service at Glass City and heads to Faith Community for a noon service: Change out of his jeans or wear a robe and condense the sermon from 40 minutes to no more than 20 minutes.
“I get into the zone and don’t notice crying babies or people sleeping, so 20 minutes goes by fast,” he said. “But I have learned to condense without having it just be an outline.”
Lavalette’s preaching is focused on the Bible because that is the primary way to know God, he said.
“I want to help people understand that God loves them and there is hope in this world. You can change your behavior all day long, but it doesn’t change your hope and happiness. You need to know the one that saves the world.”
As a teen, Lavalette didn’t give faith much thought until a good friend invited him to a Bible study.
“I was not a Christian. I was touring with a band and recording albums,” he said, noting that he plays drums, acoustic guitar, bass and keyboards in addition to singing. In the summer of 1998, he underwent a coming-to-Christ process that involved reading and studying the Bible.
“It really started to resonate with me,” he said.
In 2001, he was invited to do music ministry on the campus of The University of Toledo while studying literature and pop culture. It was on campus where he met Ashley. They were married in 2006 and moved to Indianapolis, where he worked for a big church for 18 months.
“The goal was to move further west, like Colorado,” he said. Instead, he felt a calling to return to Toledo, which he did in 2008. The next year, he started Glass City Church in a friend’s basement, and it later moved to the second floor of St. Petri Lutheran Church. Ashley and their daughters, Aubrey and Jayden, are involved in the church as well.
Both churches are small, but Lavalette points out that the way to grow a church is to focus on each individual to help them grow in faith. He’s grown in his understanding of people through one task he rarely has with the younger, Glass City congregation: visiting shut-ins.
“I make home visits and take Communion to people in their homes and have conversations with them,” he said.
“If not around older people too much, you might think we’re boring,” Reese added. “We’re easy to get along with, and we get his jokes.”
The church is also looking at adding some contemporary music to its services, a little at a time.
Faith Community moved to 1126 Anderson St. in a residential neighborhood in 2010, after its 9,000-square-foot church at Arlington and Byrne roads in Toledo became too much for the small congregation. The members immediately got busy welcoming residents from the neighborhood, passing out candy at Halloween and hosting dinners and rummage sales. Reese and others also support the food pantry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church by volunteering a few hours a week.
“We would like to grow in the community,” Reese said. “I think if we get people in here, they’ll like it.”
She encourages those who are interested in meeting the new pastor to come to Christmas Eve service at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, December 24. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.