Photo By: Ellie Van HOutte/Town Crier
Members of Terra Nova Church wrap gifts for Operation Christmas Child, one of the church’s many service projects.
When Grail Nitsch and her 9-year-old son, Ryan, arrive at Terra Nova Church at Hillview Community Center for worship on Sunday mornings, they’re greeted with a hot breakfast, hugs, handshakes and families mingling around circular tables.
“We’re all living very busy lives,” Nitsch said. “It’s great to always do something of value.”
Although Nitsch visited many other churches in the Los Altos area as a single mother, she said she never felt accepted as a “complete family.” The Terra Nova congregation, she said, complements her modern lifestyle and spiritual needs.
“As a mom, I want to make sure we are living by our values,” Nitsch said.
She wants her son not only to hear the Scriptures, but also to learn to apply the values of his faith through everyday actions.
“Any book is only as good as how it is translated in the real world,” said Pastor Tim Carlson, an ordained minister with a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.
Carlson founded the independent Christian Terra Nova congregation in January 2011.
Struggling to accept frequently confusing “church speak” and the way that many religious communities separate church from real life, Carlson said he set out to create church as people wanted it to be – family-oriented, fun and open to all, regardless of where they were on their spiritual journey.
“Scripture is a set of awesome, amazing truths, but churches have been sharing it in dull ways for a long time,” he said. “Church should be an experience, not just a lesson.”
According to Nitsch and other parishioners, it is not uncommon for Carlson to use video clips and games to illustrate biblical truths or even cancel a service to enable the congregation to participate in community-based projects like Operation Christmas Child.
On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the Terra Nova congregation spent church hours delivering food baskets to Mountain View families in need.
“If serving baskets to people in Mountain View is needed, it’s better for us to bypass church and serve the people,” Carlson said. “Church is not about the building we’re in, it’s about the humans who pursue God and the humans who set out to serve God.”
Although building his congregation is important, Carlson said he emphasizes the importance of bringing families together via shared experiences. He strives to create an environment that makes families want to attend church because they are confident that they will leave with memorable lessons that translate into their daily lives. He doesn’t think it’s healthy for people to go to church out of obligation. If it’s better for your family to stay home on a given Sunday, he’s perfectly fine with it.
Carlson said that when the rubber meets the road, it’s about how his parishioners embody their Christian values in their lives – and his family is no exception. Carlson and his wife, Stacy, meet congregation members for coffee during the week, cook meals and even pick up a member’s children from school when the family needs help.
“There never was a rebel who believed in doing things more differently than Jesus,” Carlson said.