HANSON — Pastor Kristian Skjerli of Calvary Baptist Church, may not have planned on leading a church, but since he was a teenager he knew he had a calling to serve God in his community.
“It’s something I knew God was calling me to do back when I was 17,” he said. “It just took a little bit of a winding road that I didn’t expect. But it was a good road.”
Skjerli, 56, was approached to become senior pastor at Calvary Baptist about a year and a half ago, while serving as a deacon and member of the search committee to fill the vacancy in the pulpit after the Rev. Jeffrey Lavoie left to found The Well Community Church in Halifax.
“The thing that we want to make sure of, is yes we’re here to serve the needs of the community — whatever that is,” Skjerli said during an interview at his church Thursday, Dec. 1.
The church is a center to administer vouchers for families in need to contact the Salvation Army — the Hanson Senior Center fills that role for the elder population. The church also has begun an annual Thanksgiving dinner for dementia patients as well as an occasional thank you breakfast for the region’s first responders.
The church works with the Hanson Food Pantry as a collection location, as well as hosting a monthly support group for families who have lost children to addiction and is reaching out to determine how it can assist a program at East Bridgewater’s Covenant Community Church.
A group of Calvary Baptist members with trades backgrounds are joining forces to help people in need of minor repairs on their homes but can’t afford to hire a repairman. Residents purchase the material and the group performs the labor.
Calvary Baptist is also becoming involved as a participant in the Hanson Holiday Fest. Church member Jamie Bevelaqua is leading community outreach initiatives.
“The goal is to extend the hands and feet of Christ — that we are, literally, those hands and feet — so that as there is a need people can sense that we’re reaching out not only because we’re nice people, but because we have a message that drives us,” Skjerli said. The church also supports 39 mission projects around the world, as a way to aid its global community.
It’s the type of community outreach to which Skjerli has always been called.
“I started public speaking when I was 12 through a mission down in New York [City],” he said of a Baptist church group he belonged to that volunteered at an Episcopal mission, ministering to the homeless. “I started sharing my faith and scripture as simply as a 12-year-old could.” Skjerli recalled.
Their mission was to provide information about services available to the homeless and to “give them hope because of Christ.”
“You have to look at things through their eyes,” he said. “Walk beside them at least, and feel what they feel, to get an idea of who they are.”
He recalled one man, a journalist from Los Angeles named Thomas O’Brien, who had struggled with alcoholism, and moved to New York for a job he was unable to find.
“I asked him what the hardest thing was on the street, and he said, ‘Knowing that nobody cares about me. That — if I were to die today — nobody would know,’” Skjerli said. “I was able to share God’s love with him and that transformed me into recognizing the deepest need of people is to understand that somebody loves them, and God’s love is real and we understand it as we talk about this time of year through Christ.”
As a teen, Skjerli also helped found a program in his home church in the Brewster, N.Y., area to pick up kids and families who had no transportation on a church bus to provide rides to church and Sunday school.
“My heart was beginning to expand then, and my mind toward the needs of a community,” he said.
Born in Stamford, Conn. and raised in Danbury and in Brewster, N.Y., Skjerli, he and his family have lived in Scituate since 1994 — moving to care for his wife’s ailing parents. He graduated from Word of Life Bible College in upstate New York and at Cedarville College in central Ohio where he studied liberal arts and a Bible major.
His first ministry experience was as a teacher in a Christian school in Danbury. Eight years later they moved to Massachusetts, joining New England Baptist Church in East Bridgewater, where he was again asked to teach in a church-run school, doing so for 10 years.
While he never had the opportunity to go to seminary, Skjerli has preached at church and in a home church setting in addition to working with kids and learning sign language while at New England Baptist, which brought them to Calvary Baptist seven years ago. Skjerli now plans to continue study toward a master’s degree in counseling. It has been an unusual journey to the position of pastor, but one the church elders felt was strong enough in Biblical and pastoral knowledge to earn him the job.
“I have a strong Biblical education … I have a lot of experience in the pulpit,” he said. “Ministry has always been a part of my fiber.”
Skjerli served as a deacon under Lavoie and, as chairman of the deacons, the “leadership kind of fell into my lap when Jeff left,” due to a difference in philosophy. Skjerli then shared ministry with others trained in ministry while the search committee did its work.
When the time came to decide on whether to call three final candidates to serve as a guest minister so the church could get to know them, one of his fellow deacons asked Skjerli he would first consider being the new pastor.
He felt the decision needed thought and prayer, but accepted the post after undertaking a two-and –a-half hour question and answer session that ordained him.
“They needed to know who I was,” he said. He then preached a Sunday as a candidate pastor before being overwhelmingly winning votes from the congregation.