Faith in Paradise: Q&A with long-time CB power couple pastors Tim and Kelly Jo Clark

By Kendra Walker

Next week, Reverends Tim and Kelly Jo Clark will be celebrated for their combined 50 years of service (Tim 30, Kelly Jo 20 years) with the Union Congregational Church (UCC) at the Golden Jubilee Celebration and Roast on July 26. In honor of their dedication to the community, the Crested Butte News sat down with Tim and Kelly Jo to reflect on their time in paradise over the years.

How did UCC and Crested Butte become home? 

Tim: Back in the ‘80s, I would come to visit my sister Robin Norton and her husband John when I was in school. The deal was that I would babysit their girls in exchange for a ski vacation. Then in the winter of 1992, I had just graduated from seminary and I came out here skiing with my friend Dan Dennison. We went to a church service at UCC and Dan told them I had just graduated and was looking for a job. I was living in Manhattan at the time and came back out for an interview. We talked at the Powerhouse restaurant about backcountry skiing, mountain biking, elk hunting and fishing for my interview, and they said, you’re hired. I packed and moved straight to Crested Butte in June of 1992. My first summer here was also when Kelly Jo entered the picture. 

Kelly Jo: I graduated from Western in ‘92 and stuck around that summer and started coming to this church. I met Tim and thought he had this amazing, young energy, he was someone you could relate to. He was a big inspiration as a pastor. I moved to Seattle and started working in churches, then I moved back to Colorado on the Front Range and got my seminary Master of Divinity degree. At that time Tim and I reconnected, and I moved up here in 2003.

How did you become a clergy couple?

Tim: I proposed to her when she graduated from seminary. But we didn’t get married at UCC, that was our workplace. So we got married during a float trip on the Colorado River instead. With two ministers marrying each other, we made everyone else the officiants, and then we jumped off a cliff into the Colorado River. 

Within that year, we got married, she got ordained and installed here at UCC and then was pregnant. We’ve been married together and working together now for 20 years. We’re the only clergy couple serving a church together that we know of in our region – Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. It’s unusual. 

Tell us about your kids.

Kelly Jo: We have two daughters. Rachel is 19 and Vivian is 13. Rachel graduated last year, works at the Secret Stash and is moving to Fort Collins. Vivian is starting eighth grade this fall. 

What is it about Crested Butte that has kept you here all this time?

Tim: This place dovetails with my theology really well, which is why it’s a good fit. My nickname in seminary was the “Green Man.” I did my masters on the earth in sanctuary. I believe the holiness and presence of the divine is everywhere. Where else would that fit better than here? Whatever it is you believe in, it’s pretty obvious in a place like this. Where would I go that’s better than here? My spiritually connects with this place.

As far as the culture, hockey was big for me. I started playing with a bunch of guys when I first came here.

Kelly Jo: He’s highly competitive.

Tim: I could take all my aggression out on the ice. I coached for a decade, and I really enjoyed that because it added a whole other element being able to ski and play hockey. 

What is it about UCC that has kept you here all this time?

Tim: I’m the longest serving pastor in this region, it’s not typical for someone to serve their whole career in one church. The average is more like two to three years. The makeup of the congregation fits our combined theology really well. It’s a highly educated and very caring-for-others-oriented group. They care about social issues, peace and justice, creation, etc. We’re not just talking about God, it’s much more oriented about what are you going to do it in your daily life and putting practical application in your life to serve others. We’re all in this together.

Kelly Jo: Our motto is “Faith in Action.” It’s not just for yourself, but how do you live it out? A key part of our ministry and this church’s ministry is really dedicated to serving others. I am passionate about community/social activism on issues of inequality and racism and oppression. This happens to be a church really focused on that.

Our denomination is also very collaborative. There is no hierarchy, it’s a covenantal relationship for all members of the organization. We want to stay here, and the congregation hasn’t told us to leave either!

Tim: They still put up with me after all these years!

Tell us more about your outreach work at UCC.

Kelly Jo: We’ve led work trips to build houses for families in Guatemala, taken groups to Haiti to help young people, built a school for girls in Afghanistan, taken youth groups on service trips to downtown Denver. This fall we are leading two trips to Guatemala.

Tim: There is an enthusiasm here around leading and promoting that outreach work. This is an affluent town so we who are blessed to have so much can do more than other small rural churches in our service and outreach work. 

Kelly Jo: We also have a fund that helps local people, everything from assistance paying dental bills or help during COVID. You don’t have to be a member of the church; we usually just hear about people who need some extra help through word of mouth.

What is it like being a pastor in a small-town mountain community?

Tim: You’re on call 24/7, 365 days of the year. It’s impossible to keep work at work. Work infuses into our home life all the time.

Kelly Jo: Being a pastor is part of our identity, for better for worse, in a small town.

What are some highlights from your time at UCC?

Kelly Jo: The blessing of the animals is one of my highlights every year. People care so much about their pets, it’s very sweet to see how connected people are to their animals. 

We also hosted a community-wide prayer vigil after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. It was really meaningful to host a vigil for those who have been wounded by churches or are scared to be wounded by churches. We were able to create a safe space for anyone to come in and pray.

Our full sabbatical in Guatemala 11 years ago was so amazing. We lived there for three months with our girls. We wanted to get into a different ethnic and economic landscape from here and spend time getting to know a different way of life. That’s where we made the connection with the organization that we are still connected to and visit today. 

Tim: I’ve gotten to do more than 900 weddings since I’ve been here, some have been weddings for people I baptized as a baby, then I did their wedding and then I baptized their baby. That’s been really meaningful to experience all those life cycle events with people.

I also remember taking a group over to our sister church in former east Germany. It was very moving for all of us to understand the world that they lived in when they were cut off and how they were able to overcome it through peaceful demonstrations. It was incredible to be welcomed into the heart of how that whole movement started. Someone I brought over had fought in WWII and had a lot of anger toward the Germans. He was brought to sobbing tears by the unconditional love he experienced on our trip. It melted his heart and healed his anger and resentment, and it was pretty darn powerful.

I also love our celebrations of life. Those are always very moving events because of the comfortable and participatory feel. Congregational participation is the heart and core of it. When I first got here, we held a celebration for a community member who had died of AIDS. All his friends were there, wearing rainbow afro wigs, musicians playing songs for him, people dancing the Can-Can. I remember thinking this is crazy and wonderful. This is how Crested Butte relishes celebrating somebody’s life. That’s had a big influence on me.

What are some of your go-to community events?

Tim: I still do the blessing at the start of the Grand Traverse every year. That’s a fun tradition. I raced several of the early Grand Traverses and I would do the blessing and then I’d have to take off my robe and start racing. 

I’ve also served on the boards for Paradise Place Preschool, Crested Butte Land Trust and Gunnison Valley Mentors. 

Kelly Jo: Books are my go-to (Kelly Jo also works at Townie Books). I also love our Sacred Feminine Circle group and advocating for things in the community that I care about, like the women’s marches and supporting our teachers at school board meetings. 

Any nerves about the community “roasting” you next week?

Kelly Jo: Not really. It’s going to be fun!

Tim: There are plenty of things that people could say about my language on the ice or how often I would get penalties. I was known as being a pretty vicious player. My sister might start telling childhood stories… I was the biggest troublemaker.

What else do you love about your community here?

Tim: We like to be the church for people who don’t have a community church. We own our rituals here and they’re organic and local and authentic. I’ve got the freedom to be able to do all that here, there’s no book of rules. I delight in the exuberant sharing of the peace with everyone every Sunday service. It will go on for a half hour if I let it. It’s a highlight every week and a wonderful indication of the spirit of the congregation. The difference between part-time and full-time residents doesn’t matter here. It’s a place where people look forward to coming and connecting with others.

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