Calvary Church to install its fifth senior pastor

The Rev. Beau Eckert will be installed as Calvary Church's fifth senior pastor Sunday. (Richard Hertzler / Staff)

Many people know Calvary Church as the big church along Route 222.

The Rev. Beau Eckert, new senior pastor at the Manheim Township church, wants to change that.

"We are a big church but want it to feel like a family."

The Lancaster County native will be officially installed as senior pastor in services at the church, 1051 Landis Valley Road, at 9:25 and 11 a.m. Sunday.

Eckert, previously the college and young adults pastor for eight years, is the fifth senior pastor in the 74-year history of the church. At 37, he's also the youngest.

And he never saw it coming.

"I didn't seek this out. I loved college and youth ministry," he said. "It's very humbling."

But he appreciates the opportunity.

"I love working with the staff. It's an exciting time. At times, it's a little overwhelming. I'm grateful for those surrounding me. I certainly don't feel alone."

Calvary, with about 2,300 members and roughly the same number of worshippers attending on an average Sunday, has 56 full-time ministry and support staff members.

The soft-spoken Eckert, who appears to have much more heart than ego, began the transition to his new post last September as associate senior pastor. Last month, 97 percent of the congregation voted in favor of his move to the top post.

He began attending Calvary with his mother in 1990. He graduated from Hempfield High School in 1993 and Franklin & Marshall College in 1997, the same year he became a member of Calvary.

In college, he studied government and history, played football and baseball and anticipated a career in politics or as a teacher and coach.

Then came a life-changing moment.

In the middle of his senior year in college, he attended a retreat at Calvary, where the leader challenged youth not just to be Christians who attended church on Sundays, but to live out their faith day to day.

That led Eckert to take a six-month mission trip after college to Zambia and Malawi.

"Through that experience, I decided I wanted to devote my life to serving in ministry."

He began as first a part-time and then a full-time intern at Calvary, before attending Columbia International University, Columbia, S.C., where he received a master of divinity degree in 2002.

Eckert and his wife, Erika, met at seminary and were married in 2001. They reside in Manheim Township with their daughters, Ana, 8, Mary, 6, Sara, 4, and Julia, 2.

From the beginning, Calvary has been known for being "Founded on the Word; Focused on the World."

Besides solid Bible teaching and sending missionaries all over the world, Eckert wants Calvary to make a difference here, in Lancaster County.

"We want to be a church that would be missed if we closed our doors tomorrow."

He also wants to reach out to other local churches and ministries to develop partnerships.

"We don't want to fly solo … . It would be great to have a common cause."

Harking back to that life-changing youth retreat, he wants people to be intentional with God, not just go through the motions.

He wants them to live their lives with greater purpose, to see how the message of Jesus Christ permeates every aspect of life.

"It's not just one slice of the pie … . And as lives are changed, families, neighborhoods, communities are changed for the greater glory of God."

In recent weeks, Calvary rolled out a new vision: "Pursuing Life in Christ."

"It is our rallying cry," Eckert said. "We value the intergenerational make up of the church and whether it's here or in the community, our desire is to help people see the value of living in Christ."

A new program, "Next Steps," will offer practical steps to pursuing life in Christ.

"Everyone pursues something. Looking at the Bible, we're asking, 'What is your purpose in life?' That's what we're going to be about."

In December, Eckert will offer a sermon series on "The Presence of Christmas."

Acknowledging life's challenges - deaths, illnesses, hardships - he said "Christmas isn't always great and wonderful."

"(The series) will help people think through how the presence of God (coming to Earth) being Emmanuel (God with us) can make a difference as we experience the suffering and pain of life."

In the past 10 years, Eckert has lost four family members.

"The reality is that there's hope beyond this life. That's the message of the Gospel.

"There's a hope that we don't always see and experience, but it's true."