Community Church welcomes new pastor

A temporary assignment found in an Internet search for "outdoor ministries" has turned into a full-time pastorate for Grand Canyon Community Church's new pastor, Jared Long.

Long came here last April for a year-long assignment supporting the church's former pastor, Ed Purkey, under the Christian Ministries in the National Parks. As staff coordinator, his job was to manage the 13 college students who worked here last summer leading the services.

"That way, Pastor Ed could concentrate on the needs of the church and I could oversee the summer ministry," he said.

Under his agreement with the ministry, he supported himself with full-time work as a receiving clerk at Xanterra's warehouse and worked as a volunteer with the students. He still works for Xanterra, two days a week, as a bellman at El Tovar.

Over the summer, after Purkey decided to retire the church board turned to Long in their search for a replacement. He said he deliberated and prayed for a month before accepting the position, which is his first as head pastor.

Long, 35, has a seminary degree from the Evangelical School of Theology in Pennsylvania. He is ordained in the Church of the Brethren ­ a denomination with German roots, which he terms as "kind of a cousin to the Mennonites."

They are primarily centered in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Ohio, he said.

He has worked as a youth pastor within his denomination but said that as he was working out his next step in the ministry, he was open to any opportunity.

"I wasn't limiting it to just my denomination," he said. "I didn't know where it all would lead. This definitely was not the direction I was expecting."

He begins his pastorate with an advantage in that he is already developing a feel for the community and its needs.

"When you first arrive here, you don't find the community right away," he said. "Working as a youth pastor in a church, I kind of have an idea how a church works. But this is kind of a unique community. It's a small town that gets 5 million visitors a year."

This community also lacks the retired population that a pastor in a conventional church might spend time reaching out to.

"A lot of time is spent on visitation to people in the home, a lot to the elderly population that there isn't here," he said.

Instead, ministry here involves an international component, as well as a community-oriented role in administering social services such as the food pantry and community assistance fund. As for possible changes, he said he is working with the local church board to plan a course going forward.

"We'll be working together to form that vision," he said. "The newest and the biggest thing we have that we want to look into is a service in Tusayan. Other than that, it's getting the Bible study back up and going."

Along with hiking and other outdoor activities, he is also a photographer ­ in fact, that was his undergraduate major. While he is in an ideal place to follow both pursuits, he said it was ultimately the community that compelled him to stay.

"If it was just the canyon I wouldn't have accepted the position. But the realization that there's a really great community lies underneath it, supports it all," he said.

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