Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Mary Wolbach Lopert

New NUMC pastor takes community to heart


August 21, 2019 | View PDF

Photo by Mary Wolbach Lopert Pastor Walter “Skip” Strickland stands beside a banner made by Mrs. Lois Sampson, who was both his first grade elementary school teacher and his first grade Sunday school teacher. Mrs. Sampson gave Strickland the banner when he was ordained as a pastor and an elder in the United Methodist Church. He always hangs the banner in his office, no matter where that office is.

Pastor Walter “Skip” Strickland has known what his calling was since he was a high school junior in Tacoma, Wash. Strickland, the new pastor at Niwot United Methodist Church (NUMC), was very active in youth ministry and served as the conference youth president for the Conference Council of Youth Ministry for Washington and northern Idaho.

It was this drive that brought him to Colorado in 1977 after he obtained a degree in urban planning from the University of Puget Sound. Strickland enrolled at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver and was ordained by the United Methodist Church soon after graduation. He’s been in Colorado ever since and is a member of the Mountain Sky Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Prior to coming to NUMC, Strickland served as District Superintendent for the area encompassing Niwot, and was previously the full-time pastor at Mountain View United Methodist Church in Boulder.

Strickland retired a year ago after serving as an ordained pastor for 40 years. “But when there’s a need,” he said, “the bishop … often call(s) to see if we can fill in for a period of time, until they can appoint the next full-time pastor.”

Strickland is familiar with the area and lives in the south Longmont Creekside subdivision. He is appointed as an interim pastor at NUMC through June 2020. Rev. Laura Hehner, the previous NUMC pastor, is on medical leave and doing well, according to Strickland, but will not return to Niwot when her leave ends.

Strickland chuckled that the church is known as the Niwot United Methodist Church on Lookout Road, in Gunbarrel, with a Longmont zip code. But he added that the joke was indicative of the church’s history because it started on what is now the west side of Highway 119, then moved into the town of Niwot. In the late 1960s, when subdivisions were being established in Gunbarrel, the church moved to it current location.

One reason Strickland is excited to be at NUMC is because it is celebrating its 150-year anniversary next spring. He’s looking forward to celebrating the church’s rich history. “It also allows the church to look at its ministry now.” He’s looking at how the church can reaffirm its mission and vision and what steps are necessary to achieve those goals.

“First of all, we have a real variety of perspectives and views, so we celebrate that. But at the same time we want to be an open and inclusive church. Our goal right now is to be an open church, a friendly church, a church where people can experience community and can feel value for who they are and for whom God has made them to be.”

He added, “That in a world that seems to value polarization, we are a church that is working towards unification.”

He also plans to continue the church’s long-standing efforts in community outreach. “We’re trying to focus on helping different nonprofit agencies in the area.” These nonprofits include Attention Homes in Boulder, which was the beneficiary of this year’s Soup, Soup and More fundraiser, the Boulder homeless shelter and several international projects.

Going back to his undergraduate days, Strickland has always been involved in “community,” serving as an assistant football coach at Pagosa Springs when he was a pastor there, and currently playing mandolin in a local bluegrass group.

One of the Niwot church’s slogans is, “Embrace the community and transform the world.” “The congregation takes that seriously and I do too….” he said. “This church is really active in trying to make sure its community is strong and cared for.”

For Strickland, a strong church helps make a strong community, “where people are cared for, their rights are respected. It becomes a more healthy community.”

That’s something from which everyone can benefit.

The Niwot United Methodist Church is located in Gunbarrel at 7145 Lookout Road. For more information call 303-530-0241.


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