Down the road but not forgotten
Van Eps family follows the calling to another church
Brian Van Eps, friendly and funny pastor of Big Sky Christian Fellowship for nearly 5 years is venturing down the road. He insists it is not goodbye – it is, “see ya later.”
In fact, he and his wife Lori, 5 year old Ava and 6 year old Eli will be settling in Four Corners so they can maintain some proximity to their Big Sky church family.
He is a gregarious and approachable man of faith compelled to follow wherever God leads – which is how the Van Eps family first landed in Big Sky. Now, they are being led to Journey Church in Bozeman, which sees around 1,200 parishioners in a weekend – a little less than half the entire population of Big Sky in 2018. He acknowledges that it will be a transition and the reality of leaving the Big Sky Community – even for a move to Bozeman – has been tough “with as much as has been invested and as much as we love everybody.”
“You’re making me all emotional, this is like Oprah gone bad right here,” he said.
Big Sky residents who miss his Sunday words of faith and wisdom can find Van Eps a computer link away.
“You can sit at home, in your pajamas and watch a livestream on journeyweb.net. You can just click that and, ‘Oh! Inappropriate human with Pastor Brian on Sunday morning,” he said with a laugh.
A “professional Christian” for 16 years, he worked as a youth pastor in California and Colorado before settling into the position of associate pastor for a large church in Denver when he was earning his master’s degree in theology at Denver Seminary. On the hunt for a church to call his own, a friend notified him of the opportunity in Big Sky – the irony being that the couple already had so much history in the community: they were engaged at Soldier’s Chapel 15 years ago.
“We felt like God led us here to help this small community and it got really clear that part of why we were supposed to be here was to bring people together – in light of a lot of transition happening here. Even if it was just an hour, people could breathe a little and get out of the chaos,” he said. Friendships developed as did the family’s pursuit of the normal Big Sky hobbies: fishing, hiking, alpine skiing.
He is proud that for the past 5 years, the church has sent Christmas boxes all around the world to kids who did not typically get Christmas – somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-150 boxes. They helped the food bank, had vacation bible school and he assisted with many community fundraising events through being the auctioneer – a volunteer gig that sent him spiraling into Youtube tutorials because he wanted to actually learn the skill of auctioneering.
Upon his reflection of time in this community it is apparent that there was a lot of faith, a lot of friendship and a lot of fun.
Pastor Brad Lartigue let him preach the Easter Sunrise Service on the mountain for the past five years.
“I’m going to miss that. I got to preach that sunrise service and ski down to preach another service – on a totally empty run – giggling like a school girl,” he said. “This year at Journey we’re probably going to have five services and I won’t get to ski. Those are quintessential Big Sky things that make this community pretty awesome.”
He said he will miss the uniqueness and simplicity of a small town church – and the sense of small community as well.
In addition to his churchly duties as well as volunteer auctioneering, he also helped coach basketball at Ophir Middle School and assisted with varsity basketball.
“He is one of my favorite people,” Big Sky School District (BSSD) Athletic Director John Hannahs said. “I will very much miss him as a part of our athletic program. He has given a lot of time and energy to the school and of course the community. On top of that, he is a good friend – one of those guys you like to be around. That’s what I’ll miss most.”
BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman also had thoughts to share about the Van Eps family departure from Big Sky: “We will miss Brian and family in the community, he was always willing to step in when needed to work with our student athletes and always did so with enthusiasm.”
It is tough to leave, but Van Eps said they are sure glad they came to Big Sky.
“As many people who live here longterm know – it’s a pretty special place. The setting is secondary to the people,” he said.