Groups include variety of denominations
Throughout Carson Valley, the sound of nails being pounded in wood as new churches rise or congregations expand raises the question: “Is the Carson Valley God’s country?”
An estimate of churches in the Valley and parts south yields just under 30 organized groups, which include a variety of denominations and congregation sizes.
While the actual numbers may differ, most agree that nationwide statistics indicate anywhere from 77 to 95 percent of all Americans are “unchurched,” a term that also has its own interpretations.
“I’d say the national percentage of unchurched people would be around 77 percent,” said Senior Pastor Gary Johnson of the Carson Valley Church of the Nazarene. “It’s interesting – I was in the Boise Valley before coming here, and the population there is about 65 percent churched, much higher than the national average. There are 35 Nazarene churches there. Between the Baptists, Mormons and Nazarenes, we had it pretty well covered.”
With a population of nearly 30,000 residents in Carson Valley, even 30 churches would need memberships of 1,000 people to add up to a Valley that is 100 percent churched.
As it is, the Valley is probably a bit above the national average at close to 10 percent of the population active in their respective churches, according to most pastors. This includes residents who attend out-of-the-area churches, such as in Lake Tahoe or Carson City.
The most visible Valley churches in the last month – due to the completion of their new building – are Carson Valley United Methodist Church of Gardnerville and Christ Presbyterian Church of Minden.
n Steady growth. Both congregations have experienced steady growth, leading to the need for new buildings.
The Methodists recently consecrated their 14,000-square-foot building. Pastor Pete Nelson, 50, who grew up in Reno, has been the pastor since 1983, coming right out of seminary school to lead both the Carson Valley and Smith Valley congregations of the Methodist church.
As a child, Nelson did not attend church.
“Two blocks down the street from where we lived in Reno, there was a church,” he said. “On Sunday mornings I would listen to the church bells and felt somehow drawn to them.”
n All for a girl. In 1966, after graduating from Reno High School, Nelson joined the youth group of a Methodist church to impress a girl.
“To make a long story short, the girl is gone, but I stayed with the church,” he said with a smile.
When Nelson arrived here in 1983, there were 104 members of the Carson Valley church at the corner of Highway 395 and Church Street in Gardnerville. That building was vacated the fall of 1996, and members worshipped in the multipurpose room of Carson Valley Middle School until moving into the new church at 1375 Centerville Lane last December.
“It wasn’t so bad being in a temporary location because the real ministry happens between Sundays, anyway,” Nelson said. “We did fine that way.”
In the 15 years Nelson has been pastor, membership has grown from 104 members with approximately 30 in worship, to 400 members, with an average of 250 in worship at two Sunday services.
Across town at Christ Presbyterian Church, members recently began to worship in their new 8,700-square-foot building, located at 1701 Lucerne in Minden.
The Rev. Tom Summers, 45, was hired by Presbyterian Church USA in July 1994 to came to the Valley as an organizing minister for the church.
Summers grew up Philadelphia, married and owned a very successful trucking company as a young man.
At some point, he realized that although he was very successful, happiness was eluding him. He left the trucking business to attain a master of divinity degree from Princeton University in New Jersey and found peace.
“I was happy for the first time in my life,” he said.
Several of his initial ministerial assignments involved working in Trenton, N.J. and innercity Philadelphia.
He eventually felt a call to do new church development and in May 1994 came to Carson Valley for an interview.
“I loved it immediately,” he said. “My wife and daughter did, too.”
At the time, approximately 25 to 30 church members met in the Coventry Cross Episcopal Church building, Douglas High School, and the The Record-Courier building in Gardnerville and, finally, in their new $1.2 million sanctuary last month.
Current membership is around 130 parishioners, but Summers said he expects the congregation to take off now that the church is permanently located.
n “Church in a box.” “We used to call ourselves, ‘The church in a box,’ because we could pack up everything into a box each Sunday and move it,” he said. “Many people said, ‘When you get a church building I’ll come,’ so we will probably continue to grow.”
The new building will house not only the Sunday services, but a child care center and preschool during the week.
Diversity of function is important in a modern community, Summers said.
“Because we want this flexibility, we aren’t going to be installing pews in the sanctuary,” he said. “Instead, we’ll use moveable chairs. We want to be open to the community and plan to offer the facility to those who need a place to gather.”
n Youth outreach. Another Valley church planning a dedication is the Carson Valley Church of the Nazarene east of the Gardnerville Ranchos.
The church was started in a Gardnerville Ranchos garage 13 years ago by Ron and Katherine Winebarger. For years after that, the 40 or so members met above Penguin Plumbing in Gardnerville, the CVIC Hall in Minden and finally, eight years ago, the present building was completed on 10 acres at Pinenut Road and East Valley Road.
Three years after that, in July 1993, Gary Johnson, 51, came to be the pastor at the burgeoning church, then more than 100 in attendance. Today the number of Sunday worshippers averages 150.
Like many other Valley churches, the Carson Valley Church of the Nazarene is attempting to reach young people. Johnson said the recent hiring of a youth minister, Priscilla deVaney, is an important step in that direction.
“She’s amazing, and she has such a way with kids,” he said. “We have a very lively youth group.”
Johnson said he feels the way to the future of the church is to look to youth while still attending to traditionalists.
“I’m trying to lead the congregation into a more contemporary mode,” he said. “We have to face the fact that as we move into the next century, only the contemporary churches will survive. A lot of churches that were cutting edge in the 1970s and 80s have plateaued and will become irrelevant if they don’t modernize.”
Johnson said the new Generation X, primarily teen-agers and youths in their 20s, are looking for relevance in their church as well as in their lives.
“As the churches have plateaued, we’ve had to wake up and realize that our design to stay traditional was causing the plateau,” he said. “We have the dichotomy of trying to reach the Baby Boomers, the Busters (in their 30s) and Generation X. This last group is not willing to just sit back and say, ‘Well, mom and dad said I should go to church, so I’ll go.’ They want the truth, which I honor. This is why reaching the youth is so important.”
On Sunday, Aug. 2, Johnson will be assisting in a dedication ceremony for the recently completed educational wing of the church. This new construction will house Sunday School classes, offices and rest rooms. The 11-month project was completed primarily by volunteer labor from church members and cost less than $50 per square foot to build, which Johnson said was definitely less than if the church had hired all the work out.
“It’s amazing that we did it for that amount of money. Ironically, our main guy in the project, Duane Hillabush, is leaving the Valley to take another job elsewhere,” he said. “God works that way, though.”
n Pastoral center. Saint Gall Catholic Church in Gardnerville has roots that go back about 140 years, according to Alice Gingrich, pastoral associate. By 1865, a church building had been constructed in Genoa, but it was destroyed by fire before 1900.
In 1917, 30 Carson Valley families raised $7,000 and built a small brick building on Main Street in Gardnerville.
In October 1964, 400 parishioners, guests and clergy walked six-tenths of a mile from Main Street to the church’s current location on Centerville Lane.
Father John Corona has presided over the church for more than 20 years, and from the root of 30 families, there are now 700 registered families at St. Gall.
To house the growing parish, and to serve the community, plans are being finalized for a new St. Gall Pastoral Community Center and should be under way in the near future, according to director of development for the project, John W. Stemplinger.
“We’re about halfway to our goal of $3 million, which is great,” he said.
The 19,000-square-foot, $3- million facility will provide the much needed space for celebration of the sacraments, religious education classes, community social gatherings, indoor sports and meetings, Stemplinger said.
n New conversions. Grace Community Church, in the Valley four years as of last March, started its gatherings at Carson Valley Middle School, like several other congregations. In September 1997, the congregation moved to their current 4,000-square-foot location at 1426 Industrial Way.
“Now, we’re in the process of doubling that space by the end of next month,” said pastor Brian Borgman. An expanded sanctuary and three new classrooms are being included in the new addition.
The church itself started with approximately 70 people in attendance and now sees an estimated 200 in attendance each week.
“We have a more strict attendance policy – we keep clean attendance rolls,” Borgman said, adding that among the growth he has witnessed at the helm of Grace Community Church, many new conversions are evident.
Borgman said he has seen statistics for the state of Nevada indicating that 3 percent or less of the state population attends church.
“I would assume that in the Valley here, our numbers would be a little higher than that figure, maybe 10 percent,” he said. “Interestingly, in the South, those figures are reversed. In the traditional Bible Belt, it is a more important part of their culture to attend church.”
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