Clergy Corner, Oct. 13, 2017

Clergy Corner, Oct. 13, 2017

CHAMPAIGN — After 43 years in the ministry with stops in California and Washington before coming to First Presbyterian Church in 2006, Pastor CHUCK CARLSON is calling it a career after Sunday's service.

And what a service it will be.

First Presbyterian is canceling its Saturday night service that's delivered in French for its growing African congregation as well as its normal 8, 9 and 11 a.m. services on Sunday for one big 10 a.m. service that will mix the African worship band with the First Presbyterian choir. It will be French on one side and English on the other, and they'll sing hymns alternating languages between the verses.

"It's going to be a major celebration that way, and it's going to be an experiment, and I'm happy to go out on an experimental basis," the 70-year-old Carlson said.

Fitting that Carlson would go out on such a note seeing as First Presbyterian has been somewhat innovative in the 11-plus years he has been there.

Among the changes that have occurred through the years are:

— Starting an English-as-a-second-language program that has been successful.

— They've received the African community, particularly the Congolese, and have integrated them into the congregation.

— About 400 young members of the congregation moved out to southwest Champaign to start their own church, Copper Creek Presbyterian Church.

— They've brought in speakers for Courageous Conversation talks to go over significant social issues like race, serving the poor, parenting and women's issues.

— Tracy Dace started the DREAAM Project and was hired as the mission coordinator to engage the congregation on social issues and racial divide.

— Recently a large group met on Wednesdays to read and discuss the book "Waking Up White."

— The community missions deacons have connected with more than 60 agencies in the community offering money, time and support for various projects.

— The church has partnered with a Presbyterian church in Havana, Cuba, and some members have traveled there once a year since 2010, and they've sponsored visitors from there.

— There has also been a relationship with a Christian-Muslim girls' school in Pakistan.

"This church has been open to look at its own attitudes, be open to how we can be more self-aware and more connected to the wider community, and that's what I love about this church," Carlson said.

The members have loved Calrson, too, and they've expressed a certain level of sadness that they'll have to go on without him after Sunday. But his efforts and steady influence have been welcomed through the years.

"He's been a very calming force and very good at administrative things. I keep hearing from the people inside that he kind of helped put things back together and has done a great job as far as leadership," longtime member Gary Peterson said. "He's been very comforting, and he keeps everything calm."

A graduate of the University of Colorado, Carlson and wife Betty spent the bulk of their years on the West Coast before answering a calling to come to Champaign-Urbana in 2006, and they'll head west soon. The Carlsons have three daughters who all live in Portland, Ore. and a son living in Nebraska.

They will be moving to Lakeside, Mont., where Carlson will be a part of churches there and do some preaching on a part-time basis.

"The time will be my time and my choices. I won't have to be at an institution like this under a lot of pressure," he said.

The time in C-U, though, has been time the Carlsons will treasure. Betty Carlson was a K-5 music teacher at Westview Elementary before retiring in May.

"Champaign for me has been a community that has the highest-level quality of living I've ever been. There's the university, sports, Krannert, the arts, the level of musicianships that I have encountered here, drama, music; I've been absolutely overwhelmed with the giftedness of this community and this congregation," Chuck Carlson said. "We have professors, administrators, business people from the community. It's been a wonderful experience for us."

That has made leaving somewhat difficult. The walls and bookshelves in Carlson's office are now bare as he continues to pack boxes that include 43 years of work in preparation for the next move.

"It's been hard with a lot of emotional attachments. What to throw away and not throw away. I'm finding I'm keeping a lot more than I'd rather keep, but I'll have a chance to go through things where I am and take more time with it," he said. "It's been about the people. In the end, you have all the politics and administrative stuff, but it's about the people loving God and loving people. That's both simple and hard at the same time."

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