That’s the mindset Pastor James Daniels and wife Larissa have in planting a church in Chelsea.
A call to serve as head of the Upper School at Westminster School at Oak Mountain brought James Daniels and his wife Larissa to Chelsea in 2013. James had worked with more than 40 schools, most of which were classical Christian schools, in different cities for 20 years and had earned a master’s degree in religious education. But the couple had no idea their move to Chelsea four years ago was the start of a process to plant a new church in the community.
“About six months after I moved here, I really fell in love with the community of Chelsea,” James says. “I always had in the back of my mind that God might want me to pastor. I just didn’t know what that would look like. Church planting was the last thing on my mind.”
He talked to Larissa, his friends and his mentors, and spent much time praying and poring over scripture. He says God affirmed that he was to start a church in Chelsea.
“Moving from an established job where all the infrastructure is in place to start with a blank slate was a big step of faith for me and my wife and our family,” he says. “Every day, I wake up somewhere between scared to do it and being excited as all get out. Even on the scariest days, God has given us a peace about what we’re doing.”
Larissa echoes James’s statements, and says, “There’s always been a peace that we’re doing what we’re called to do. I think God has to prepare your heart years prior on your journey.”
On Sunday, Jan. 7, James led the inaugural service for Chelsea Presbyterian Church. Nearly 40 people attended the service.
James says he got involved in the Presbyterian system through relationships, and he wanted his church to embody the same characteristics he grew to appreciate as an Evangelical Presbyterian Church member. “We’re first and foremost evangelical. We’re about the good news of the gospel. Our denomination is very conservative. We believe every word of the Bible. We believe that Christ is who he said he was.”
James says Presbyterian circles emphasize that Christ-followers can be honest about their brokenness as sinners, but they can also know God’s love and grace is available to them.
“Come as you are. No sin is too big,” James says. “We’re not anybody special, but we just celebrate the fact that in the midst of that, God has given us grace.”
James describes the church’s overall atmosphere as “a church of old in a town of the new.”
“We’re traditional in form. We look a lot like the historic churches in the past, but in the midst of that, we’re very eclectic.”
James talks to and prays with pastors of other local churches, not as competitors but as friends in the same ministry field. “We’re all in this together as kingdom work. It’s not all about one church. We don’t see ourselves as competition.
“We’re not out to build this big church in Chelsea. What we’re here to do is first of all what God asks us to do through Jesus: to serve our community.”
That service includes regular barbecue cookouts open to the public, and the couple is serious about continuing the tradition they started before the Chelsea Presbyterian Church formed. To this end, the church’s motto is “Loving God, Loving People, Loving Life.”
“Our first tangible purchase was a church smoker,” James says. “We are going to feed people and serve people without expectation.”
James jokes that the church is becoming “barbecue famous,” but cooking good food is not his main goal. “Ultimately, we want to make Jesus famous. We’re not trying to manipulate; we’re not feeding you to get you to pray.”
The church holds communion every week to break a loaf of bread together. A “breaking bread” series for discipleship groups to meet at each other’s houses for a meal is in the works.
“There’s nothing like breaking bread with people and getting to know who they are and serving each other,” Larissa says. “We’re not looking for people just like us. Serving without expectations is always our goal.”
The cookouts have been effective in drawing people together for fellowship, turning strangers into friends.
“The world is very impersonal and wants to keep people anonymous, where we can begin to get past superficial, cordial relationships,” James says. “We’re sharing each other’s burdens and weaknesses.”
James and Larissa have a 17-year-old daughter, Alexandria, and they are a host family to a college student named Diane.
Chelsea Presbyterian Church services currently are held each Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at the King’s Home Weatherford Building behind Chelsea Middle School. Follow Chelsea Presbyterian Church on Facebook for updates and event announcements, or visit Chelseapres.org.
“If our church eventually dies, but people’s lives are changed and Chelsea is thriving and Jesus’s name is made great in Chelsea, then I’ll consider that success,” James says. “We’re not going to stop doing what we’re doing.”