Pastor Pat Jeffrey recalled that when he first moved to Falcon in 2001 there wasn’t much around except for miles of prairie and an abundance of antelope. “There were 60 head of antelope behind our house (in Woodmen Hills),” he said. “Now, the closest antelope are probably 3 miles away from our house.” Although the view has changed, Jeffrey’s fondness for Falcon has remained the same over the last 10 years.
No stranger to living on the plains, Jeffrey was born and raised in Lexington, Neb. – a small community of 5,000 people. In addition to enjoying outdoor sports such as fishing and camping, Jeffrey’s family was active in their local Presbyterian church. While in high school, he was also involved in Campus Life Youth for Christ, a nationally organized ministry for youth. After feeling a “tug” to work for the youth ministry, Jeffrey’s home congregation encouraged him to seek his calling. “They kind of took me under their wing and said, ‘Maybe you should consider going to the seminary,’ and I actually listened,” he said.
After graduating from Lexington High School in 1973, Jeffrey attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla. He graduated in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in Christian education and went on to obtain a Master of Divinity degree from the University of Dubuque in Iowa in 1980.
Jeffrey took his first call as an associate pastor at United Presbyterian Church in Washington, Iowa. It was through his work with his church’s youth that he met Joyce, a local music teacher. “Some of the youth I was working with kept saying to me that I should meet her,” he said. “And they kept telling her that she should come to church and meet me.” Eventually, the two met, began dating and married about a year later on July 3, 1981.
In 1983, the couple moved to Salina, Kan., where they both joined the staff at First Presbyterian Church. Jeffrey was an associate pastor while Joyce directed seven choirs. They stayed there three years before moving to Encampment, Wyo. – 90 miles west of Laramie.
The small mining town on the Colorado-Wyoming border had a population of roughly 500 people. “The people were so warm and friendly,” Jeffrey said. “And we liked the wilderness.” Jeffrey said Encampment is 2 miles from Routt National Forest. “There’s lots of rivers and lakes; parks and camping; fishing and all that,” he said.
While living in Wyoming, both of Jeffrey’s sons, C.J. and Justin, were born.
In 1989, while serving as the senior pastor at the church in Wyoming, Jeffrey began working on his doctorate through McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. “You have to serve in a church (to participate in the school),” he said. “Because all of your studies are related to the work you do in a church.” Jeffrey said he was one of nine students who participated in the school’s long-distance program. His fellow students hailed from New Mexico and Colorado.
“We would be assigned eight or nine books to read and would have a month and a half to read that,” he said. “And then they would fly a professor from Chicago out to Colorado … and then we would go to Estes Park for a week.” In addition to the readings, the students were tested on the material and also asked to complete month-long projects. After completing a brief residency in Chicago, Jeffrey graduated in 1993 with a Doctorate of Ministry in parish revitalization.
Not long after completing his doctorate, Jeffrey wasn’t sure he would stay in Wyoming. “For about two years I kept thinking I will be open, but nothing really tugged at me,” he said. “So Joyce and I had concluded that God didn’t really want us to go anywhere.” But just two weeks later, the Jeffreys made a connection with a church in Alaska. Within a matter of months, the family of four packed their bags and moved to Haines, Alaska.
Although the Jeffrey family enjoyed the natural splendor of their new home, they also faced a few challenges. “It is very isolated. People get stir crazy,” he said. “And it is tough in the winter.” Jeffrey found that the combination of isolation and a small-town lifestyle equated to limited resources. He recalled trying to prepare for his church’s first candlelight Christmas Eve service. “It’s too late to order a candlelight kit,” he said. “Everyone had a candle. They were all different, but they had a candle. They brought their own.”
Despite challenges, Jeffery said most people learn to adapt. “You may have something and you may not, but people just understand that,” he said. “And that is one of the really nice things up there – you can’t afford to get uptight.” For the next five years, the Jeffrey family adapted to living in Alaska.
In 2000, the Presbyterian organization offered Jeffrey an opportunity to develop a new church. At first, he and his family were not fond of the idea. “We were resistant to that because we had a family,” he said. “And if you go into new church development you start from zero.” But as time went on, the Jeffreys overcame their fears and moved to Falcon to start a new church.
Grace Community Church originated with six or seven people. “We started in our living room,” he said. “And then we were going to try and meet in the schools but that didn’t really work for us.” But as with all of his challenges, there was one voice that rang loudly in Jeffrey’s ear. “I felt the voice of God saying, ‘If you are going to build a church here, you need to find a place,’” he said. So the church began meeting near the tack shop of Latigo Trails, and grew to more than 40 members.
In 2003, Grace Community moved to a storefront setting next to Domino’s Pizza in the Shops at Woodmen Hills. Jeffrey met with other congregants to determine the best means to grow the congregation and eventually build a new church. Growing the church meant building relationships in Falcon. “We would pick our kids up at the school. We would talk to people at the school,” Jeffrey said. “I would volunteer for things at the club house; cut up watermelon on the Fourth of July – just developing relationships.” Jeffrey found it took a while to build a certain trust level.
Over the next five years, the church had two regular services and continued to grow to about 100 people. During this time Grace Community Church obtained 35.5 acres, as well as a loan to build a church. In September 2009 the church received a certificate of occupancy and the present congregation of about 145 has been worshipping there ever since.
The life of a pastor can be unpredictable, but Jeffrey doesn’t see his family going anywhere in the near future. “This is such a melting pot here. There are people from all over the world – what an example of our nation right here in Falcon,” he said. “That is a really neat thing I like about it … and I think that is how heaven is going to be.”
(Click photo to enlarge)