‘Clergy couple’ takes on four Methodist churches in valley
Post Independent intern
Following the retirement of Pastor Michael Ingersoll after 12 years at First United Methodist Church of Glenwood Springs, the Revs. Dave and Carol Lillie are ushering in a new concept for the Methodist churches of the lower Roaring Fork Valley.
As a clergy couple, meaning they are both ordained pastors, they will jointly serve the Methodist congregations in Glenwood, Carbondale, Basalt and Thomasville. In addition to Ingersoll’s retirement, Pastor Brad Walston recently left after five years at Carbondale and four years serving Basalt and Thomasville.
For official purposes, Carol Lillie is the appointed pastor for Glenwood, and Dave will take lead at the other three churches. But their intent is to mix it up a bit and share pastoral duties at the four churches.
Coming from Longmont, Colorado, the Lillies have been preaching for a combined 47 years as a second or sometimes third career.
They were appointed to serve in the Roaring Fork Valley and requested the opportunity to work together serving multiple churches, which Dave said is unusual. The process of finding and assigning new pastors to a church is very lengthy, and includes a series of interviews, meetings and introductions.
“Change is one of those things that is good. The people coming in will start new programs, and that’s good,” Ingersoll said of the change in leadership. “I’m excited for the churches and the people. It will give the people a different flavor.”
The fact that all four churches were experiencing turnover at the same time presented a unique opportunity for the Rocky Mountain Conference to consider a clergy couple appointment.
The Glenwood Springs church, right downtown on Cooper and Ninth, serves as a meeting place for the community, which is one thing Ingersoll said he loves about the church. Various youth groups come to spend a night or two at the church during ski or outdoor trips. The Boy Scouts also meet there, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups.
The Lillies only just arrived in the valley at the beginning of July, but they are getting to know the community and how they hope to fit in here. They are planning to split the churches between the two of them, so that one will lead a Sunday service on a given day in Glenwood while the other leads in Basalt and Carbondale, and, as requested, the small church in Thomasville above Ruedi Reservoir.
They may switch off now and then, and they hope the communities will accept both of them as preachers instead of picking a favorite.
“We don’t want people to become groupies … because we have different personalities and different approaches, different styles,” Dave said. “We want you to come and just expect to have a really positive, uplifting kind of experience.”
Carol said Dave’s style involves taking complicated, biblical ideas and making them relevant to individual lives, while Carol tends to be more creative and enjoys coming up with ideas for special services.
“We have dovetailing talents, and that’s one of the reasons we asked to work together,” Dave said. “Ash Wednesday, she’ll put together an awesome service. If it’s Ash Wednesday for me, it’s going to be plain vanilla.”
Carol and Dave both emphasized the Christian aspect of grace. Dave said that’s how he sees Christianity differ from other world religions.
“The key, what makes Christianity unique is the focus on grace, this focus on the fact that God loves you and me and Carol and Brad and everybody absolutely equally, without reservation,” he said. “So how do we help people understand that by accepting and embracing that their life could be better?”
Eight years ago, Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer, which is why nowadays she sports pink highlights in her hair. She said that instead of letting that challenge her faith or take over her life, she doesn’t want that part of her story to define her.
“I am so much more than that,” she said. “Just as anybody who’s had cancer will tell you, I am more than this.”
Another thing the Lillies focus on is human sexuality, and accepting all regardless of how they identify.
They said their position on issues of sexuality was something they wanted the congregations in the valley to understand before they got to work, to avoid any confusion later on.
Human sexuality has been a big conversation in the larger United Methodist Church over the years, including ongoing debates among church hierarchy about allowing openly gay clergy to serve, and whether they can perform gay marriages.
Once, the Lillies decided to involve their Front Range congregation in the Heifer Project, which sends livestock to third world settings and gives the animals to poor families, so that they can use their wool, milk, eggs, etc. Churches and other organizations can opt to sponsor cows, chickens, sheep, rabbits or other animals, and the Lillies’ church decided they wanted to sponsor rabbits.
Dave also has been known to dress up in pink bunny suits for a good cause. One member of their congregation, a seamstress, urged Dave to wear a bunny tail if they could raise $100.
“I said, sure, I’ll wear a bunny tail, if it means 10 Third World families are gonna have a better life,” Dave said.
When they surpassed $100, the lady asked if Dave would wear a pink bunny suit if they could raise $1,000.
“So I thought, that’s a little further, but OK, fine. A thousand dollars, I’ll wear a pink bunny suit, because there’s no way we’re gonna raise a thousand dollars.”
The church raised $1,700 for the Heifer Project, which meant they were able to send more than the rabbits they had planned to sponsor. That Easter, Pastor Dave dressed up as the local Easter Bunny.
As for Ingersoll, he will not be wandering far from his congregation. He decided to remain in the valley with his family after retirement because of the positive hold the community has on him.
“I’ve found that this has been a very loving community, and that’s why I want to stay,” he said.