FORD RIVER - When Jay Gilchrist attended church as a teen in his native Minneapolis, Minn., he had no idea of the dramatic change that was about to take place. He said, "my buddies and I started going to church because the girls were cute."
But at the age of 17, Gilchrist's pastor gave him and two of his friends tickets to attend a five-day Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp held in Northfield, Minn. It was there, while listening to the testimony of a Minnesota Twin baseball player about the reality of eternal life, that Gilchrist came to realize that he, too, could know for sure that he could have eternal life.
"I was a sinner, straight up, and, I was angry at God," Gilchrist recalls. "I was adopted by a black family and often wondered why, if God wanted me to be in a black family, that He didn't paint me black."
Pastor Jay and Ann Gilchrist are the new pastoral family at Ford River Community Chapel.
So, when the opportunity arose for Gilchrist to meet the God who had made him uncomfortable and who could forgive his sins was given, the teen could not resist the invitation. The experience proved to be so life-changing that Gilchrist, who enjoyed being involved in school athletics, dropped out of sports entirely.
"All I wanted to do was memorize scripture and pray," he said. "I even started preaching in the high school cafeteria during my lunch hour."
But full-time ministry was not immediately in Gilchrist's future. He attended college in Georgia, and returned to Minneapolis. He worked in the financial services industry for over 25 years in various capacities and married the former Ann Howard, daughter of the late Lew Howard, former owner of Lew's Southside Market in Escanaba, and his wife, Virginia. In the fall of 2003, Gilchrist moved his family from Minneapolis to Escanaba, and continued working in the financial services sector. When not involved in his career, Gilchrist made himself available to teach in the local church.
"I always wanted to be in the ministry, and I have taught for 30 years," said the father of eight children now ranging in age from 11-29. "But I didn't see how I could afford to pursue ministry as a career."
In October of 2009, while studying in the library at Calvary Baptist, he accepted an engagement to preach at a church downstate. Eventually, he was called to become the pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Fairview. He continued to divide his time between his church downstate while working during the week in Marinette, Wis., at a finance company, and later Elmer's County Market.
In January, while on vacation, Gilchrist was invited to guest speak at the Ford River Community Chapel. He was well received and agreed to candidate to become the pastor. Following a series of meetings, and after ensuring a smooth transition for his church in Fairview, Gilchrist was installed as pastor of the Ford River Community Chapel on May 5.
"I fell in love with the people and the history of this church right away," Gilchrist said. "This church was born out of one man's passion - Lowell Fox - to reach unchurched people with the love of God. The building of the chapel was necessitated by the overwhelming response to the message, thus requiring more room to hold meetings. As one of the 50 church options in our area there is one thing that makes us unique. There is a palpable sense of warmth that one experiences as soon as you walk in the door. As a church family, we consciously walk in extravagant grace, and consciously minister extraordinary love to the individuals in our community. Extravagant grace, is what we received from God when we didn't deserve it. Extraordinary love, is a love that goes beyond the expected, just like God's. That's what built Ford River Community Chapel in 1976. Continuing to express that same kind of love is why Ford River Community Chapel will remain 'necessary.'"