Dear Pastors and Staff of Eagle Brook Church,
In May of this year, my friend and (now former) coworker, Carson Frutiger, announced that he had accepted a position as Pastor of Student Ministries at your Anoka, MN campus. After I’d had a chance to let it sink it, I was elated. Right away there was a sense that God was calling Carson to go and serve in this new place.
I felt proud. Carson grew up in our parent church, Rochester Covenant Church, and I knew him as a young teenager. His family (and extended family) have been an active part of our church since we launched nearly ten years ago. When Carson graduated from college, our church, NewDay Covenant Church, just happened to have an opening for the position of Children & Youth Director. Carson was the ideal candidate and we were so pleased to bring him on staff. Over the past four+ years, I’ve watched him grow more and more into a person committed to speaking hope and life into the lives of young people through vocational ministry.
So, it felt as if Carson was taking the next natural step. Our son, brother, friend was leaving the nest to go to Anoka. And, we knew he would fly.
I must confess, I shared with Carson my concern over one thing: Big Church. I mean, Carson was heading to work at the biggest church in the state of Minnesota. What would that be like? Since I’m a person who works for and loves small church, it was only natural that Carson and I talk about what it might mean that he was going to a big mega multi-campus church.
A lot of words are spilled around the topic of big church. I did a quick google search and there’s lots of discussion out there and, really, most people aren’t going to care about it, but for those of us who are passionate about church life, it seems to be something that comes up with some regularity.
I’ve long struggled with my feelings about big church. The expansive buildings and the behemoth parking lots, the production, the lights, the music, and the celebrity status of some prominent big church pastors makes them less about authentic community and more about, well, bigness.
Oh, I’m sure you all talk about these things, as well; wrestle, even, with what it means to be big. Just like we wrestle with what it means to be small.
Ultimately, it comes down to a question of how do we reach people with the message and love of Jesus? Is bigger church - with its seemingly unending resources - better equipped to do so? Or, does going big mean losing authenticity and genuine Christian relationships? Does going small limit resources and thus limit impact? Or does going small allow us to focus on people rather than programs?
Anyway, back to Carson.
It wasn’t long before we had our final Sunday together. We prayed over our friend and sent him off to serve. Our hearts were grieving our loss, but we were happy for our friend.
But then, less than a month later, I received a call from our Lead Pastor, John DuBall, while I was on vacation with my family up north. He told me that Carson was in the hospital in Rochester (Mayo Clinic) with pneumonia. I was shocked, honestly. Carson is young and healthy. That’s not a usual diagnosis for someone his age.
I knew it was serious, but was confident that Carson would recover and get back up to the Cities and his new life.
But, it turned out to be more serious than anyone could have imagined, as you know. Two weeks after his hospitalization, doctors were finally able to determine that Carson was suffering from blastomycosis, a fungal infection in his lungs. Not only that, he was suffering from “1 in a million” complications.
I was at the hospital the day they placed Carson on life support (ECMO). I saw my husband later that day and through sobs told him that I didn’t think Carson was going to survive.
But, he has survived. Carson has shown what he’s made of. His strength, determination and dependence on Christ is inspiring. After a month in a medically induced comma, he awoke and began to rebuild his strength. Through numerous setbacks he has continued to recover. Still, blastomycosis has wreaked havoc on his body and he now awaits a heart and lung transplant.
It’s hard to process, really. Aside from the very serious medical aspect of this, is the fact that just a week after we sent Carson off on this new chapter in his life, he got sick. Then, he returned to us as a patient at Mayo Clinic. And, we grieved again as we sat near his bedside; near his family.
I’m sure it’s been difficult for you, as well. Carson had just begun his new job with you in Anoka - just a week or two in - and this happened. He hardly had time to get to know you and you him.
Carson still feels like one of our own, but he’s now a part of you. So, naturally we asked the question, “How would this big church respond?”
I wouldn’t have faulted you if you’d simply decided this was too much to handle especially for an employee that had only been on staff for a couple of weeks. I get it. Time stops for no one and there is work to be done. Maybe Eagle Brook Church would just move on.
But, that’s not what you did.
Eagle Brook Church, I have been blown away by the love and support you have shown my friend. You have shown me that big church can love big. Your staff donated PTO to Carson. You helped spread the word about Carson’s Go Fund Me page and your people donated to the campaign. You have shared your concern with one another and prayed in your worship services. Your people have shared the heck out of Facebook posts so that more and more people can pray. You have visited Carson and you have lovingly supported and encouraged him in this journey of a thousand miles.
Earlier this month, I was visiting with Carson and I noticed a picture taped up near his bed in a place that he could see it. The Anoka campus staff had made the trip to Rochester and were all smiles as they talked with and loved on Carson. At the end, they gathered around his bed and that’s when the picture was taken. Your beaming faces tell a magnificent story. It is the hope of God spread through people. A people with whom to share purpose, friendship, and good things to come. It’s the story of Carson’s future.
Eagle Brook Church, I am so grateful for you. You have shown me that the question should not be big church or small church. Instead, it should be a declarative statement of big church and small church working together as the body of Christ. And, cross-denominationally, as well!
Keep on loving well, big church brothers and sisters. I look forward to the day when Carson is back under your roof doing what he loves with people who love him. For now, we, the small church, are at his bedside holding firmly to his hand.
NewDay Covenant Church