OWOSSO TWP. — After a long and successful career, the Rev. Jerry Walden retired a couple of years ago — but it didn’t take.
At 10 a.m. this Sunday, Walden will be installed as the new pastor at Owosso First Church of the Nazarene, 1865 S. M-52. The public is invited to attend the ceremony, which will also be live-streamed on owossonazarene.org.
“I really just felt that God is calling me to do this,” Walden, 67, said. “I feel like the church and I are a good fit at this time. We’re all moving forward in the same direction, and that’s exciting for all of us.”
His last ministry, as director of the Gerholz Christian Counseling Center at the First Presbyterian Church in Flint, ended in 2018 with his retirement.
Then, last year Walden agreed to serve as interim pastor at the Owosso First Church of the Nazarene but resisted an offer to make the post permanent. In January, he and his wife, Darlene Walden, spent some time during a trip praying about it.
Walden met with the church board, whose members were unanimous in recommending him for the pastorship. Parishioners voted in his favor by an unheard-of 98 percent, 130 out of 133 votes.
How could Walden say no, especially since he has admired and been active at the church since moving to the Owosso area in 1994?
“One of the things I love about this church is they have historically been very concerned about meeting the needs of the community on every level — spiritually, socially and psychologically,” Walden said. “Their commitment to the community lines up with the message of having a social and spiritual heart.”
That dual emphasis matched Walden’s own “bi-vocational ministry,” which has embraced both the spiritual and social aspects of life after 1989. That year, while pastoring in Syracuse, Indiana, Walden’s his wife and all three of their children died in an automobile accident. The tragedy led him to transition to providing Christian counseling, with an emphasis on grief and loss.
His bi-vocational ministry also lines up with a personal commitment to support his community. He served a term on the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners, is the secretary on the Memorial Healthcare Board of Trustees and sat on the Shiawassee Health and Wellness board for 12 years, 10 as the board chair.
In addition, Walden is finishing up an earlier commitment to teach social work at the bachelor- and master-degree levels at Spring Arbor University, a private Free Methodist-affiliated college in Spring Arbor.
“(Walden) leads by example, and I think that is very good,” church board member Jerry Meyer said. “Also, he really listens to people’s needs. He’s got a great relationship with the board — he just tries to be humble. He has a great personality, and he’s a great fit here. We’re all behind him.”
Walden said one goal of the Owosso First Church of the Nazarene is to “provide an atmosphere where people can come in and experience an authentic relationship with Christ.”
He said the church takes people as they are.
“We don’t want people to feel they have to clean up to go to church,” Walden said. “We accept people where they’re at. We want to help them with their personal and spiritual journey.”
Walden, who grew up in Indiana, has served churches throughout the Midwest since the mid-1970s, and at seven churches in mid-Michigan as interim pastor. In 2015, he retired from the Grace Bible Church in Owosso, where he served as the lead pastor for 9 1/2 years.
Walden holds a master of divinity degree from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and a master’s degree in clinical social work from Michigan State University. He is a licensed clinical social worker with the state of Michigan.
In 1993, pursuant to the request of Teen Ranch — a therapeutic school in Marlette — Walden opened a counseling center called Family Counseling Services in Owosso, the city where he met Darlene. The couple married in 1994.
Walden’s hobbies include taking his boat out on Lake Manitou, where he and his wife share a home. The couple enjoy spending time with sons and daughters-in-law Randy and Molly Woodworth, and Jim and Jillian Woodworth, and their four grandchildren.
The Owosso church’s work began in 1932 at the Nazarene’s District Assembly, where General Superintendent J. W. Goodwin urged each church to organize a second church, according to the church website. The Rev. A.W. Eastman, pastoring in Durand at the time, urged some of his families residing in the Owosso area to begin prayer meetings in their homes.
From the prayer meetings came the First Church of the Nazarene in Owosso. The new church’s first meeting place was in a store building on Main Street. On March 13, 1933, the church was formally organized and the Rev. Clyde Flewelling became the first pastor.