LEXINGTON, Ky. (BP) – The Center Point Church family has an aching heart and for good reason. It was an unthinkable week with the deaths of two staff leaders – Senior Pastor Tim Parsons and Executive Director Chuck Vellios – coming only days apart.
The church is grieving the loss of men who had discipled hundreds for Jesus Christ and who put the Gospel at the forefront of their lives, leading many to a profession of faith. Both died from COVID-related symptoms. It has been a shattering time for the church whose focus turned to how the men lived and the impact they made on so many.
It’s a stinging loss that won’t heal quickly, but members have hope and joy for the days ahead because of Christ, said Associate Pastor Graham Withers.
“There’s a realism that we have in grief,” he said. “We don’t want people to act like it’s no big deal. But we’re not grieving as those who don’t have hope. We have hope Jesus wrapped His arms around both Tim and Chuck, we have hope we’ll see them again one day and we have hope that God has not forgotten or forsaken us.
“One thing Tim always said when he preached was that this is God’s church. It was never built on one man. Tim was a very gifted man by God, but he was more than that. He was available and obedient about what God was doing through him. He had the Holy Spirit and so do we. We will not be distracted from the mission.”
The celebration service for Parsons, a beloved pastor, on Aug. 30 was uplifting and encouraging. Then news came later that day that Vellios, another beloved staff member, had died. His life celebration service was today (Sept. 8) at the church.
Parsons was one of four planting pastors for a church that will its 16th anniversary later this month. He was a beloved spiritual leader who shared the Gospel with thousands and whose mission in life was to make disciples for Jesus Christ.
“He was a very well-loved pastor for great reasons,” Withers said. “He loved people. I heard so many stories of people as they walked through the door at how welcomed they felt.”
Parsons, who was 59, was often the first person to meet visitors at the door. He looked forward to setting up “coffee visits” with anyone who came through the church doors, Withers said. It wasn’t unusual to find his truck parked at the Panera Bread near the church, where he met people for evangelism or discipleship.
“That was his out-of-office place,” Withers said. “I could go there any given time and I’d be surprised if I didn’t see somebody from our church doing some type of ministry. He saw those coffee visits as a great evangelism opportunity,” Withers said. “He loved doing those. It helped people feel connected to him.”
Withers said some of the staff at Panera even reached out to Parsons’ family about how much they are going to miss him.
The celebration of life service for Parsons was just what the pastor would have wanted, Withers said, because it ultimately gave God the glory and shared the hope in Christ.
“He loved people, the Bible, family and the Gospel,” he said. “He was very much someone who deserves to be honored, but he wouldn’t want it to be about him.”
Withers said the best way for the church to honor the lives of Parsons and Vellios would be to continue on the mission that they established as leaders of Center Point.
“Our mission as a church is to take every person we meet one stop closer to being a disciple of Jesus Christ,” he said. “As much as Tim believed in that mission, our mission has not changed. We’re grieving and we’re not going to move past our grief. It will take that right balance. How do we grieve well? We need to grief in a healthy way. We don’t try to bury it or ignore it but, at some point, we have to move from the grieving and be on mission at the same time. The church is not hitting the panic button.”
Church leaders – the elders and the staff – haven’t panicked either. The staff has been given the authority by leadership to execute the day-to-day work. Everybody is taking some of the responsibilities, said Withers, who has been at Center Point since 2011. He was a sophomore at the University of Kentucky when he joined and became a staff member in 2015.
“I started being discipled by Tim as a junior (in college) and really ever since,” Withers said. “He’s helped me grow spiritually and invested and equipped me for ministry. He was my pastor, my boss but also a dear friend. He will have a lasting impact on my life.”
Vellios, who was 63, has been an instrumental part of the ministry since the beginning when the church met at a Regal movie theater in 2005. He led small groups and provided valuable organizational skills to the team while investing in the staff. He had worked for the Nestle corporation and brought many of those skillsets to the church.
“He was really helpful in helping us think strategy of how we’re doing things,” Withers said. “Chuck is one of the most faithful, godly men I’ve ever met. He and his wife Barbara have been part of our church from the beginning.”
Vellios had to move out of state for a time, but he moved back to Lexington after retiring and “picked right back up where he left off,” Withers said.
The losses of the two leaders will leave a void, and the grieving will take some time, Withers said.
“We’re hopeful but grieving. The people in the church are taking it pretty hard,” he said. “He was our pastor, our friend and the spiritual father to many people. He has left a legacy. We’re trying to help our people understand it’s OK to grieve and OK to mourn. We can grieve and mourn and be hopeful at the same time. The picture the Scripture paints for us is what it looks like to suffer. We do not grieve with those who do not have hope.”