Passing the Baton
By Rob MacKay
The two didn’t seem to have much in common.
Paul Heidebrecht, the outgoing pastor of Calgary Community Reformed Church, had decades of experience in the Reformed tradition and two post-graduate degrees. He valued mission work and international Christian efforts.
Meanwhile, Jeff Pasche, the incoming pastor, grew up in the Armenian tradition in a very religious family. He had grown up in the area and was young and fresh out of college.
Despite these differences, though, the pastoral transition at Calgary Community in the Marda Loop neighborhood of Calgary, Alberta, was seamless—thanks in large part to one thing: mentoring.
Many churches prefer a “clean break,” where the previous pastor is gone before the next arrives. But Heidebrecht wanted some overlap. From the start, he says, “My goal was to help the church find a future, and in my mind, that included a new minister who would take my place and build on the foundation I was laying.”
In his four years at Calgary Community, Heidebrecht transformed a 100-year-old house of worship with an aging commuter congregation into a missional, community-based church. Heidebrecht was well loved by the congregation and the neighborhood, but after a few years there, health problems demanded that he plan for retirement. In July 2015, he met with Pasche, a recent graduate of nearby Ambrose University who had majored in theology and biblical studies. The 28-year-old seemed full of positive energy and dedicated to doing the right thing—but was he a good match for Calgary Community?
Pasche grew up in the Armenian Alliance Church (also known as the Christian and Missionary Alliance), and some Reformed practices and liturgies were new to him. Yet he was drawn to the Marda Loop community. When that became clear to Heidebrecht, he knew Pasche was the right person, he says.
“I had this feeling of needing to get out of the way and let the Spirit bring the church and Jeff together,” says Heidebrecht.
That’s where the mentoring came in. Heidebrecht and Pasche had long conversations about Calgary Community’s personality, blessings, and challenges. Pasche attended a few services and began working part time at the church, observing the culture, meeting people, and taking some responsibilities off Heidebrecht’s shoulders. He preached twice to the congregation over that summer, and was well received both times.
“[Heidebrecht] wanted to know where I was going with [the church]. He wanted me to get in front of the people,” says Pasche, who became comfortable with both the congregation and the Reformed tradition. He spent many hours talking with and seeking counsel from Reformed theologians and church-goers.
“I love the learning. Any opportunity to learn a new perspective, I’m on it,” he says.
Fall arrived, and Heidebrecht announced his retirement. In November 2015, Pasche gave his first sermon as the sole leader. Pasche, who has a one-year, open-ended, renewable contract, is continuing the community outreach and mission work, while also focusing on the congregation itself. He plans to fine-tune the administration and launch a new children’s ministry soon.
In June 2016, Pasche was approved to start the process toward ordination in the RCA, which means he began seminary courses this semester. It looks like he’s settling in for a long stay at Calgary Community.
Pasche says, “Unless otherwise called away, this is our church family for the foreseeable future.”
Editor’s note: Read Heidebrecht’s reflections on his time at Calgary Community.