Longtime Crossroads pastor begins handing leadership to younger colleague

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Video of Crossroads founder passing the torch can be found at the bottom of this story.

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Crossroad Community Church

The founder of Vancouver’s Crossroads Community Church, a clean-cut 67-year-old minister who wears glasses and relatively conservative clothing, delivered the Easter message April 8 as he has for nearly 40 years.

This Easter Sunday, however, Pastor Bill Ritchie had company at the front of the sanctuary in what would be a symbolic passing of the baton to the next generation.

Halfway through his sermon on Jesus’ resurrection, his soon-to-be successor, Daniel Fusco, a 36-year-old jazz musician with a beard, dreadlocks and an uncanny resemblance to Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz, joined Ritchie and took over the second half of the sermon.

“You know, I’ll bet you never get tired of telling that story,” Fusco said.

“Thirty-seven years right here in this place, man, I never get tired of telling this story, and God willing, you are going to be telling it for 37 years, as well,” Ritchie said.

The contrast between the two men was striking, an image of two distinct generations and a signal that things are changing.

Fusco, a musician and author, was hired in October to replace Ritchie as senior pastor of one of Clark County’s largest congregations. That ushered in a period of transition. The pastors each preach every other Sunday and will continue sharing responsibilities until the transition is complete no later than January 2014, Ritchie said. By then, Fusco will fill Ritchie’s role, including appearing on the KPDQ-FM radio program “Brand New.”

“We are having a velvet transition,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie will still have a presence at the Calvary Chapel megachurch, which has a membership of about 6,000. He has started a ministry at the church for baby boomers called Nxt STP (That’s text jargon for “Next Step”). The ministry is designed to motivate middle-aged adults to use their expertise and vitality to give back to the community.

Planting a church

For all of their outward and generational differences, the pastors have a lot in common. Aside from their mission to share and strengthen Christianity, both are church “planters.”

Ritchie founded Crossroads in 1973 with a membership of 300.

Since Fusco was ordained in 2002, he has “planted” three Calvary chapels in New Jersey and California.

Ritchie said he had been looking for someone to continue his legacy.

“I had been feeling for some years that we needed to transition if we were going to meet the needs of the next generation,” Ritchie said. “I had pretty clear criteria to follow.”

Ritchie wanted someone with experience planting a church, a strong educational background, a hunger to learn, good communication skills and a love of people, he said.

Last June, he went to the Calvary Chapel Senior Pastors Conference in Mirada, Calif., and bumped into Fusco. They knew each other from other Calvary Chapel events. Fusco asked Ritchie how things were going. Ritchie told Fusco about the search for a pastor, and that was the end of the conversation. A couple of weeks later, Fusco emailed Ritchie about the position.

“Never in a million years did I think I would come up to Crossroads,” Fusco said. The meeting with Ritchie “got stuck in my heart to the point I sent an email. I said, ‘I don’t know if something is there, but if there is something there, let’s talk about it.’”

Ritchie invited Fusco to Vancouver to meet with the church’s board of directors and to give a sermon.

“I came, and I had a great time,” Fusco said. “There seemed to be something there. There was chemistry.” Fusco was hired in October and left the Bay Area with his wife, Lynn, and children, Obadiah, 7, and Maranatha, 4, to move to Vancouver.

Ritchie said changes in leadership can cause turmoil at churches, but that hasn’t happened at Crossroads. Fusco’s sermons have been well-received, and members know Ritchie will still be around in the baby boomer program.

“When we announced what was going to happen, there was a lady in her 80s … a tough, farm gal,” Ritchie said. “She said, ‘Wow, we aren’t going to lose anybody (from the congregation) because nobody loses.’”

Generations in unity

The contrast between the two pastors is, in fact, a sign of a quality both value in churches: a sense of intergenerational unity and cooperation in a society of age segregation. Ritchie said the church has been able to foster interaction between people in a range of ages, from infants to people in their 80s. Fusco said he would like to continue that.

Meanwhile, Fusco’s youthful rocker style, his comfort with social media and analogies that make more sense to Generation Xers and millennials than to their predecessors could be an asset during a time when churches are increasingly losing their young.

One in four Americans ages 18-29, known as the millennial generation, are unaffiliated with a particular faith, according to the Pew Research Center. In comparison, one in five Generation Xers and one in eight baby boomers were unaffiliated at the same age. Also, fewer young adults attend religious services than older Americans even though millennials hold similarly traditional beliefs about the existence of God and life after death, according to Pew. More Americans also have changed their view of religion, embracing multiple religions at once or adopting atheist Bill Maher’s “gospel of ‘I don’t know,’” according to Pew.

Fusco grew up in a family without religious ties and became a Christian during his senior year at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. As a result, he can identify with unaffiliated youth.

“By and large, millennials and their parents rejected religion,” Fusco said. “Because of the technology, they have access to information about different faiths, and they ask, ‘How do I know anything is true because there are so many ways to view the world?’”

Fusco said Jesus’ image has been blurred by media and politics.

“There needs to be a fresh articulation of who this guy is,” he said. “He was cool, radical and complex.”

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.