CARSON CITY — This Sunday will be Pastor Andy Croel’s last Sunday at Carson City United Methodist Church.
When Croel first arrived as the new pastor of UMC in the summer of 2008, he and his wife Anne had one child. Six years later, they have four children — Elijah, 7, Alexandra, 5, Emmeline, 3 and Asa, 1.
Croel, 39, and his family will be missed by the UMC congregation and by the community in general. The family is headed to St. Johns, where Croel has been appointed as pastor of Pilgrim United Methodist Church.
“I will miss the people,” said Croel of leaving Carson City. “Relationships are an important thing for me, and over these past six years I have had the opportunity to meet, minister to and work with some wonderful people. I’ll miss running into people I know while shopping in town. I’ll miss the people with whom I’ve developed friendships. And I will miss my congregation dearly. They have been a blessing to me and to my family. I have been able to grow a great deal as a pastor with them.”
Croel is a “second career pastor.” He worked as a teacher for three years after graduating from Michigan State University, but eventually decided to enroll at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kencucky, where he earned his master’s of divinity in 2005. He ministered at two United Methodist churches in the Lansing area before being appointed by the Bishop as pastor in Carson City.
“When I first arrived at Carson City, the sanctuary was not able to be used because air pressure from an early summer storm had blown the acoustic tile out of the ceiling and onto the floor,” Croel recalled. “Because of this, we had to move our worship out to the Fellowship Hall. That same year the balloon payment on our mortgage came due, so we had to renegotiate the mortgage and add extra repair funds on to the loan. This all happened in 2008, which was the banking crisis, so getting a loan was no easy task. After a lot of hard work by many folks in the congregation, the sanctuary was repaired and we had our first worship in the sanctuary together on Easter Sunday, which was a pretty awesome event.”
Growth of a pastor, and a church
Carson City UMC offers two Sunday morning services, which attract an average of 125 people combined. Roberta Kile and Waltha Gaye Leavitt are two of the many volunteers who help keep the church alive and well.
“Pastor Andy has grown tremendously and he has caused us to grow as a church community,” said Kile who is in charge of children’s programs at the church. “His sincerity and his love for the Lord is right out there for anyone to feel. His messages just hit home every single Sunday. Whatever he has to say always connects with us. It connects in our small groups also.
“He will definitely be missed and I think he’ll miss us too,” she said.
Leavitt, who volunteers her musical talents to Vacation Bible School and the Christmas program among other church events, said Croel will be remembered for his successful efforts to get the church congregation more involved in the Carson City community. She said he also encouraged the congregation to work at paying off the church mortgage
“Pastor Andy has done a lot of growing,” she said. “We also got to watch his family grow and mature, which has been a blessing.”
Leavitt said she always enjoyed Croel’s Sunday morning sermons, especially when he used his children’s own toys to illustrate his message. She said he also did a good job of picking apart secular books and showing the congregation how to apply them to their own Christian life.
However, Leavitt offered one word of caution about Croel and his love of hot peppers.
“Don’t eat his chili unless you want to die,” she chuckled.
Successes and challenges
Croel said the highlights of serving in Carson City have included community service events, including Kids Hope USA (a school mentoring program), the church’s partnership with the Community Food Pantry, Trunk or Treat (on Halloween) and planing trees in the city park.
“I hope that these sorts of things have made our presence in the community a positive one,” he said. “I hope that these things have helped to communicate the love of Christ to our community.”
Croel also has fond memories of Holy Week and Easter worship services, as well as baptizing people, including three of his own children.
Pastoring in Carson City has not been without its challenges, however.
“One of our biggest challenges is a challenge we share with most organizations in Michigan, and in eastern Montcalm County in particular, and that is the challenge of operating in a financially depressed area,” Croel said. “This presents both a challenge, and an opportunity. It is a challenge for us financially, but because it is a reality of our area, there are opportunities to serve and help out others where there is need.”
Ed Milam, who currently pastors three UMC churches in Big Rapids, has been appointed as Carson City’s new pastor. He will take on his new duties sometime in July.
“I am sad that Andy’s going, but I am looking forward to a new pastor and how he will guide us and shepherd us,” Kile said.
“We’re looking forward to the next pastor,” Leavitt added. “It’s always a growing experience on both sides.”
Visit carsoncityumc.org online for more information about Carson City United Methodist Church.