By Kathy DeMott
When Dave and Kelly Downs came to Vicksburg in 1997 so Dave could serve as a youth pastor at the Chapman Memorial Church of the Nazarene, they couldn’t have imagined that 25 years later, they would still be leading and serving at ChapNaz.
For the first nine years, Dave also served as an associate pastor, the executive pastor which gave him experience in the various pastoral roles. In 2006 he became the lead pastor, a post he still loves.
When asking Pastor Dave and his wife Kelly, what they attribute their success in leading a church, they replied in unison, “We are a team!” Kelly explained: “I did not marry a pastor. I married a banker!”
Dave said he felt the call to be a minister in eleventh grade but studied business management and marketing in college. When they had three young children, he felt the call again and discussed it with Kelly. She was hesitant initially and said they should wait for some sort of confirmation because she didn’t feel like she was pastor wife material. Within a short time, Dave was offered a position as a youth/music pastor at a church that he had not applied for. Together, they felt the confirmation and their journey into full time ministry had begun.
According to Pastor Dave, one of their main goals is “teaching and helping people become a community church outside our doors. We are here for the community, we are always on the lookout on how we can meet the needs of our community.” ChapNaz has partnered with Indian Lake Elementary School for the past 23 years doing Kids Hope. Kelly served as the director for the first 15 years. It is a mentoring program pairing adults with students who need help with various skills such as building confidence, classwork or just additional support.
The ChapNaz congregation also is active in helping with Generous Hands, South County Community Services and last year adopted 100 individuals for Christmas. About 7 years ago, it started staffing the Vicksburg Little League Opening Day concession stands so that parents could participate in the festivities and watch their children play ball. “We saw this as an opportunity to support families outside of our church walls.”
Family life has always been a priority for Pastor Dave and Kelly. They have a deep appreciation for the church, schools, and the Vicksburg community. Their daughters, Ashley (Brian) Robbins, Chelsey (Hector) Sanchez and Kati (Jordan) Gerstenberger all graduated from Vicksburg High School. The Downs report that one of their favorite activities is spending time with their amazing grandchildren. They have seven to enjoy on earth and one they look forward to holding in heaven.
On Sunday May 1, the congregation celebrated Pastor Dave and Kelly with a church wide dinner, much appreciation and shared memories. Louise Vanderberg, the church’s office administrator, said, “Pastor Dave is a servant of God and a servant of His people, a man that practices his faith and loves to share it with the entire community. He truly cares about other people and their personal relationship with God. He always goes above and beyond filling the many roles of a pastor, as a counselor, advocate, teacher and friend. It is a blessing and privilege working with him over the years.”
Pastor Dave is not only an amazing youth pastor but also a mentor, said Rob Lash. “I accepted my call into youth ministry with his guidance.” Some of Rob’s favorite memories are on youth outings. When the church bus would pull out, the pastor would say, “We’re off the porch,” and the teens would reply, “and running with the big dogs.” He was also known for saying “whoa dog” whenever he was excited or saw something that amazed him. “When Pastor Dave invited me to come back as the young adult pastor I jumped at the chance. He is still a great mentor for me and the kids as well.
The only downfall I can see is that he is an Ohio State fan, and I’m a huge Michigan fan! Pastor Dave loves God, his church and I am so grateful to be working with him.”
When asked about challenges today versus 25 years ago, Pastor Dave noted that people used to come to church because it was the “right thing to do.” Today, people come with expectations, so staying relevant and meeting their needs is so important. Family life is so much more hectic today and there is more brokenness in the world. People are hurting. Dave wears a wrist band with WWJD (What would Jesus do) on one side, and HWLF (He would love first) on the other. “That is our heart, to always love others first like Jesus does.”
Their vision for the next 25 years? That ChapNaz continues to look outside its walls to love others in the community and be salt and light for others. “Our mission is to make Christ-like disciples one life at a time,” said Pastor Dave.
By Kathy DeMott