Grace and Humor Define the Rev. Christopher Peterson
The new pastor at First Presbyterian Church has a passion for the pulpit.
Family man Peterson.
With a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, the Rev. Christopher Peterson is extremely enthusiastic about being new to town and serving as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Alameda. A family man, former software developer, and big believer in grace, Peterson shares his story with us.
How did you end up in California?
California was always my top choice. My wife, Alisa, had lived in the Bay Area before, and I was ready for a move. A small town with an influx of diversity made Alameda very attractive to my wife and me. After my first interview here, I felt immediately comfortable and at home both in the area and at First Presbyterian. Alameda is reminiscent of where I grew up in Minnesota, where there are sidewalks and little shops and where everyone knows one another. I feel really lucky to be here for many reasons, but especially because, typically, new pastors are chosen from within their own state.
Tell me about your break from being a pastor.
After being ordained I took a job in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and it didn’t feel quite right, so I decided that I didn’t have to be a pastor to do ministry. I went back to school to study software development and got a job with Microsoft in Seattle. Over time, I realized I didn’t want just a job, but a passion. In the workforce I was able to understand the values of people outside of my faith. I reentered the clergy process and ended up in a church in the suburbs of Memphis, Tennessee, and then transferred to a church in Thomaston, Georgia, where I served for 4½ years. The break gave me time to grow, and my previous pastoring prepared me for my job here. Both were good learning experiences, and now I feel like I am where I belong.
Why do you think fewer people attend church these days?
We’re living in a culture where people are pulled in many directions. There are now a lot of things going on that compete with attending church. I can do a lot to draw people in and welcome them (by the way, everyone is welcome), but I can’t make church a priority. Also, people often refer to themselves as being spiritual rather than religious. Calling yourself spiritual isn’t enough, in my opinion. God has a better life for us than the one we have, once we accept his love. There is an emptiness that can’t be filled without him. I think we need to get back to basics and recognize Jesus as the compass out of chaos.
I understand you like to use humor to reach people.
I like to put people at ease when I can, and I never want to take myself too seriously. I pride myself in being a regular person and being the same guy on and off the pulpit. Having kids keeps me in check, and coming from Minnesota, where everyone is self-deprecating, still has a big impact on me. I just did a series on how Jesus used humor in his gospels with grace always being the message. It’s amazing how many ways there are to reach people. If people can laugh, they can be more open to love. I’m a humble joke teller, and that keeps me centered.
What are Grace Notes?
When I lived in Thomaston, Georgia, I gave one-minute sermonettes that were aired twice daily on a rock-and-roll radio station. I used the minute to offer inspiration to anyone open to hearing what I had to say. I was very pleased with how many people tuned in and let me know that my little sermons made an impression on them. Everyone listened, and it was a hugely successful ministry for us. Now my Grace Notes are posted on First Presbyterian’s Facebook page. I’ll wait and see where else it might go. When I write them, I think of C. S. Lewis, who believed in pastoring to the half-converted.