I’m excited to join you all soon as Grace’s part-time Interim Pastor. You’ve been through a difficult season together – on top of all the challenges of this year’s pandemic. But Jesus is still the all-loving Lord over everything, fully present and always at work. As I’ve come to know your Leadership Team and Staff, it’s clear to me that God has given Grace strong gifts for “pressing on.” Until he brings a new Senior Pastor, I pray he will use me to “fan into flame” those gifts for any needed healing, and especially for fresh clarity and energy in your shared mission. On Sunday, September 20, I want to use my time during the Grace worship gatherings to share what that might look like.
As requested by your leaders, my wife Darlene and I prepared a brief video self-introduction where you can see and hear us. And here’s a bit more information so we can start building some relationships.
I’m a Denver native, with Christ-following parents and four younger siblings, and graduated from George Washington high school. In 1965 at the age of 14 (do some math and you can figure out my age!), I was kind of dragged by my parents to a Billy Graham meeting at what became Mile High Stadium. To my complete surprise, the conviction suddenly came that I needed Christ. So with fear and trepidation, I walked to the field to receive him as Lord. During high school, some great church youth leaders and participation in a city-wide music group with Denver Youth for Christ helped solidify my faith. One “vow” I made to God then was to do anything for him with my life… except be a Pastor. Obviously he was – and always is – the one in charge, not me!
I headed for Chicago in 1969 to attend Wheaton College. That included playing guitar in a folk-rock band in coffee houses. By my second year, I was flirting with the “counter-culture” and wavering in discipleship. A late night surprise encounter with God brought a new conviction of his absolute love that drew me back to him. Spending my junior year at C.U. in Boulder gave opportunities to solidify my identity in Christ through connections with forms of the “Jesus Movement” and Intervarsity fellowship. I returned to Wheaton and graduated in 1973 with gratitude for its robust integration of faith and learning.
The best gift from God I’ve ever received – next to himself – is my life-partner, Darlene. We met in a high school youth group, dated and then got engaged during my faith-struggling season. Thankfully, she patiently stuck with me and we were married in 1972.
After my college graduation, we moved to Pasadena, California where I studied at Fuller Seminary out of an eagerness to teach theology… but still never ever to be a Pastor. As I prepared to graduate with an M.Div. degree, I was accepted for PhD studies at University of Edinburgh in Scotland. But God had other plans. A professor/pastor mentor of a close friend invited me to be his Assistant Pastor at First Covenant Church in Salina, Kansas. Despite my “never-be-a-pastor” vow (and one to “never live in Kansas”!), we sensed God’s leading to serve there for just two years, and then resume school. When that Senior Pastor was called to a Covenant Church in California, I was named “Interim Pastor.” Much to my surprise, some pastoral gifts seemed to surface, and in 1979 I began serving as Senior Pastor, and grew with that wonderful church family over another nine years.
Yet another God-surprise came in 1987 when we were led to join a three year old church plant of 25 or so people in Littleton called Centennial Covenant. For $100/month, Darlene became secretary and custodian (which lasted a year or so), but mainly Children’s Pastor – a role she fruitfully filled for 28 years!
Shortly after arriving in Littleton, I began a Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary, studying with Eugene Peterson and Dallas Willard, and completing a very practical dissertation in 1998 on “God-Focused Discernment in Leading a Church to Health and Growth.” That title expresses much of what I believe pastoral ministry is all about: following Jesus as the living Head of what is his church in his mission. More than by the way, that will be at the heart of any ministry I have with you at Grace.
God’s faithful love came over and over in the 31+ years I served as Lead Pastor of Centennial Covenant. I felt no reason to step away from work I (almost always) loved. But during my 2017 Sabbatical, God’s leading became clear that it was time for a pastoral transition. The discernment process with church leaders culminated in my “passing the baton” to our Associate Pastor, Karl Helvig. On February 1, 2019 I “retired” from a position, but not from ministry. My primary calling the last 19 months has been to my family, but also to some community and denominational ministries, and now to serve with Grace Covenant.
Darlene and I are blessed with three children and seven grandchildren. They all live close to us in Littleton. Sarah is a P.A. for Kaiser and with Brian, a high school chemistry teacher, has four children (ages 16, 14, 10, 8). Laura works as a medical office receptionist. She’s a single Mom to 17 year old Jayden and they live with us. Matt, a great musician and photographer, makes his living in a placement agency for corporations. He and Kris who serves with Littleton’s non-profit ministry, Love INC (“in the Name of Christ”) have our two youngest grandkids (ages 8 and 6).
One thing to say about Centennial Covenant Church. It was planted in 1984 by a small group of Christ-followers sent by a church in Lakewood – what is now known as Grace Covenant. On Sunday, September 13, Centennial’s Lead Pastor, Karl Helvig (who was an Associate with me on the staff for seven years) wants to lead the congregation in a “Sending Prayer” for me as I begin this interim ministry. I hope I can embody a returned blessing to Grace that it gave to Centennial 36 years ago!
Grace and Peace,
P.S. My family pronounces “Thulson” with a silent “h” – i.e. “Tulson.” But call me whatever you like. “Steve” is fine with me!