Archive for Thursday, July 12, 2001

Baptism by fire

New Eudora pastor hits the ground running

July 12, 2001

The Rev. Jeff Shepardson spent his first two days in Eudora in a whirlwind. Eudora United Methodist Church's new pastor drove up from Pittsburg, Kan., after performing a 7 p.m. wedding. Shepardson was up at 6 a.m. Sunday to prepare for his first services with his new congregation.

By Monday, he was still setting up in his new office at the church. A handful of ceremonial robes hung ready on the back of the door, and a dog puppet was plopped on a chair, waiting for Shepardson to pull it out for Vacation Bible School.

Shepardson is replacing former pastor Dottie Forinash-Knetsch, who recently moved to Pittsburg to lead Shepardson's congregation and continue work with the campus ministry at Pittsburg State University.

Shepardson said his reasons for coming to Eudora included a chance to be closer to his 10-year-old daughter who lives in Independence, Mo., as well as the opportunity to work with a changing church and community.

"They're trying to figure out how to respond to the changing congregation," he said. "I think we are losing the ability to reach out to our population more and more."

Shepardson walks over to a chart taped to the back of his office door. The illustration breaks down the number of people in Douglas County who attend different denominations. The longest bar by far represents the number of people in Douglas County who don't attend church at all.

To change that, Shepardson said, the church needs to prove more relevance to ordinary people's lives. A big part of doing that, he said, requires changing the language of religion.

"Sometimes when I'm giving a sermon I slip into the church-y language and I think, 'Whoa, don't go there,'" he said.

As Shepardson steps into his role he also meets plans for a new church on K-10. He said the church purchased 38 acres but needed to raise capital to begin construction.

"We're not outgrowing the church, but there's a real desire to do something new," he said.

Having a building on K-10 Highway would increase the church's visibility, Shepardson said.

"My hunch and my feeling is that there are an awful lot of good people who are excited about it," he said.

Building excitement about the church in college students played a part in Shepardson's two years in Pittsburg. Working with campus ministry proved to be an exciting part of the job, he said.

"You're working with people who are making plans for their lives," Shepardson said.

In time, he hopes Eudora United Methodist Church would have something similar.

At his first services, Shepardson said seven visitors joined the congregation for worship, six of whom were college-age, he said.

"There's a real thirst and desire out there," he said.

Shepardson worked in Overland Park before going to Pittsburg. Although he attended seminary school in Kansas City, Shepardson's roots take him farther east.

Originally from upstate New York, he studied in Boston as an undergraduate.

Although perhaps a world away, Eudora suits him, he said, because it's a mix of metropolitan and country.

"I love this area," he said. "It's kind of in the middle here."

Shepardson's love of the outdoors has him camping and fishing whenever possible, but cultivation is on his mind now.

"I'm really looking forward to being a part of the growing process and looking toward the future," he said.

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