Almost every Sunday for the last 17 years, co-pastors John and Sylvia Peterson have led worship services for the Bald Hill Community Church. While the venue has changed over the years, what has remained consistent is the two pastors at the center of it all.
As of this month, that’s no longer the case.
In her most recent weekly religion column in the Nisqually Valley News, Syliva Peterson announced that she and John would be stepping down from their post at the church.
Service, which was held regularly on Sundays at the Bald Hills Fire Protection District 17, has since been suspended until the congregation can find a new pastor to lead the small church, the pastors said.
“We did it with a communion. It’s always been a special and sacred moment for us. And our last service was a communion service,” John said.
The duo said it has been a great joy to lead their small community of worshippers. They plan on continuing their devout communal mission to help guide people through Christ, they said.
Both Sylvia and John said their decision to leave the church was sparked by the death of Roger McMaster, a Bald Hills fire commissioner and church member who passed away a year and a half ago. His passing left a big hole in not only their spiritual community, but the Yelm community as a whole.
“We realized that the church was probably short lived at that point. But we continued to pastor for another 14 months because we all needed time to grieve his loss and get used to the fact that he wasn’t with us. But we’ve known the day was coming when we needed to step away,” Sylvia said. “We weren’t mad, we weren’t upset, we weren’t frustrated. It was just time.”
For the Petersons, who have lived in Steilacoom for all of their time leading the church, the decision to lead by the Bible was a calling. When they began their tenure, Sylvia was a nurse and John was an employee of Boeing.
Sylvia said she would love to see the church continue on without them, but it has been difficult to find new leadership for the church. The pay is about $350 a month, John said, so the church’s next pastor will need to lead out of the graciousness of their own hearts and go beyond the hours.
“We’re not big and impressive. And pastors nowadays are looking for a little bigger and better than where they used to be,” Sylvia said. “And for us, it was a calling.”
The Petersons say the church has been heavily tied to the all-volunteer Bald Hills Fire Protection District 17. Some board members, including McMaster and chair Harry Miller, attended service there.
“We had services where there was a fire call, and suddenly everyone stood up and we were left with just the kids,” Sylvia said.
“Eh, maybe one or two … old people,” John said.
The two will still serve as chaplains to the fire department and will be on call.
Over the years, there have been many notable and memorable moments for them serving the church. During “Snowmageddon” this last winter, they remember the difficulty they went through to commute out to church one snowy morning.
Service that day was, unfortunately, canceled. It was the first time that happened in their 17 years of leading, they said.
Sylvia has written her weekly column, “From the Hills,” for more than a decade now. She said she plans on continuing her work for the Nisqually Valley News and that there’s always a new way to look at life from the Bible’s perspective.
“It’s a living document,” John added. “As we mature, the words mature in us and we can reflect on it more.”