There was never a bit of doubt in Roy Christell’s mind of what he was going to be when he grew up – and that faith never wavered.
“I grew up in the Lutheran church and when I was five years old, as a matter of fact, I had a sense that I was going to be a pastor,” Christell said.
Christell told a story from his childhood about a moment that stands out to him as one that helped shape who he is and led him to pursue the life he chose to pursue.
“When I was finishing kindergarten, in Sunday school, my Sunday school teacher gave us all a little Bible verse to memorize. My Bible verse was Psalm 122, verse one, which says, ‘I was glad when they said to me let us go into the house of the Lord. It was like, yeah, that’s what I am going to do,’” Christell said.
“I always had a joy of being in the church. My family was very active in the congregation. I love worship, always loved God and I’m wired to love people so it all kind of came together I guess,” Christell added.
Christell, who is originally from the Chicago area, spent his entire youth and young adulthood preparing to become a pastor.
He studied religion at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois and went to seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Christell was ordained in 1978. He served his first congregation as an assistant pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake, Illinois.
“Then, in 1980, the division for mission in North America invited me to consider being a pastor developer and I accepted the call,” Christell said.
This brought him to Lake Saint Louis, where he developed not only a church, but also a real sense of community.
“I rang doorbells and introduced myself, introduced the new congregation that would be coming,” Christell said. “From October to January, it was nothing but making visits and calls. Then we started worshiping in a storefront in Lake Saint Louis in January of 1981.”
Christell said that his natural extroverted disposition helped him in that time of spreading the word about the church, before any worship had begun.
“It was certainly a challenge, but I am sort of wired to be an extrovert and an outgoing person and it was an opportunity to introduce the church and introduce myself,” he said.
Christell said that he wasn’t looking for people from other congregations, but instead looking for people who were without a church.
“It was a challenge, but an enjoyable challenge,” Christell said.
The church that he set up is Living Lord Lutheran Church.
“When we started we were in a small storefront that was all of 900 sqare feet and had a capacity of 90 people. We built a community of relationships who were coming,” Christell said.
In 1985, they built their first building and continued to build relationships in the community, helping out when disaster struck, being involved with things like food and blood drives, mission trips and mission connections.
Then in 1991, they expanded the building and then sold it to a Montessori school in 2001.
In 2002, the church moved into its current location.
Christell has seen the world change around him in his 39 years at Living Lord Church.
“I think our world is a little more tenuous now, maybe,” Christell said. “That connection to the good news of God for us and with us is even more important now.”
After a career in the church spanning near 40 years, Christell is retiring.
Christell officially retires Sunday, June 30, after which he will no longer have any official ties to the Living Lord Church.
Other than being involved in the community, Christell said he is looking forward to several aspects of retirement: especially spending time with his family.
Christell and his wife have one daughter and two grandsons.
“Everybody says we are going to travel, be more involved with our grandchildren,” Christell said. “I’ll still be involved in some community activities.”
Christell is on the Board of Directors for Lutheran Senior services and is also involved with a local community health organization, but said that, mostly, he will be, “enjoying what’s in front of me on that day with my wife and my family.”
Christell’s ministry was built on relationships. If there were one word he would use to define his style of serving, it would be grace.
“It’s all about grace. Sharing the grace of God with people in times of celebration and in the times that are more challenging,” Christell said.
This type of dedication to serving a community isn’t something that goes away just because of retirement, so it is safe to say that Christell will be spreading grace, in some form or fashion, for as long as he can.