Rev. Christopher Eshelman, 53, is the new pastor at First United Methodist Church in Fort Scott as of July 1.
“People can call me Pastor Christopher, some have been known to shorten that to Pastopher,” he said.
He has been a pastor for 14 years, and prior to that worked in small businesses in Wichita.
“I attended Wichita State (University), earning a bachelor of arts in sociology with a minor in political science in 1991,” he said. “My Master of Divintiy was earned in 2011 from Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City. My wife Robin and I met at WSU and she has degrees in Early Childhood and Elementary Education, recently accepting a job with USD 257 in Iola.”
Wichita is his hometown.
“My parents were Lutheran and Catholic,” he said. “I was baptized at St. Paul Lutheran in Wichita – but after my parents’ divorce, mom took my brother and I to St. Albans, a ‘high rite’ Episcopalian congregation,” he said.
He then did catechism in the Roman Catholic Church as a child, “but found I had too many disagreements and questions to continue,” he said.
His wife Robin had ” basically dragged” him to a University United Methodist Church Disciple Bible Study.
Midway through the study, the leader retired and Eshelman accepted the leader position.
Not long after that, he was offered a staff position at a Methodist church that he had wandered away from.
He was now in charge of creating the classes that he used to refuse to go to, he said.
“After a lifetime of wandering, I found a home in Wesleyan theology with its emphasis on therapeutic grace – and then was sent forth to share what I’d found with others,” he said.
“As I continued to grow in faith and understanding, the path to seminary, ordination, and serving as a pastor became more and more clear,” he said. “In the United Methodist Church, we believe pastors are both called by God and sent by congregations – and that has certainly been my experience. God’s grace has transformed my life and it is my honor to share that with others.”
Rev. Gayla Rapp was a key influence in his life.
“She accepted my (sometimes imprudent) questions and often responded by handing me a book, then we’d discuss it after I’d read it,” he said. “She helped me deepen my spiritual and religious journey – without imposing answers.”
Other mentors include Rev. Cheryl Jefferson Bell, Rev. Barry Dundas, Rev. Cindy Watson, Revs. Howard West and Terry Murray and many, many others, he said.
“We Christians hold that Jesus is fully human and fully God…and is transcendent,” he said. “We hold that we are to become like Christ. Exactly when would we be done growing?… We always have something new to learn.”
“I love connecting people more deeply with scripture, rituals, and spiritual practices,” he said. “A personal motto is ‘Find your path… share your journey.’ It is so fun to see a light go on in someone’s eyes as they make a connection, deepen a relationship or even develop a new question that draws them further along their own path!”
This past year with the COVID Pandemic has been by far the most difficult in his career, he said.
“Trying to make decisions to keep people safe, while continuing community has been extremely taxing,” he said.
“Beyond that, people are sometimes all too human – but I often say ‘Jesus hasn’t given up on me, so I’m not allowed to give up on anyone else.'”
He is an avid reader and listens to a wide variety of music, especially rock and jazz; is a huge soccer fan, following teams in several leagues and countries; enjoys writing icons (in the Eastern Orthodox tradition) and also enjoys walking labyrinths as a spiritual practice.
“I’m eager to set one up here in Fort Scott and share that ancient tradition with more people,” he said.
In the past, he has served as the president of the Pretty Prairie Community Association and looks forward to getting to know Fort Scott and finding places he and his wife can contribute to building up the community.
Times of church services:
Worship- 10:30 a.m. each Sunday, Sunday school at 9:30 a.m.
The church hosts “Feeding Families in His Name” each Wednesday evening. “It is open to everyone and you are invited!” he said.
For more information phone (316) 833-4974 or email[email protected]