Today on episode 8 of the Listening in Place Project, Cassie Carroll (Master of Divinity, ‘16) is in Spring, Texas talking with Reverend Paul Nazarian from Northwoods Presbyterian Church about navigating change as a congregation.

On changing course as a church: A principles I follow is: “Bless what has been and then add to it.” For us, that meant making services more modern and experiential. We also had 24 members die this past year, and that has been a wake up call for us since churches in our denomination are dying.

On holding the balance between internal and external focus: We have to steward community among the members of the church and remain open to the needs of people in our neighborhoods who may not be members of the church.

On the challenge of change: “It’s always a challenge for churches because they don’t want change. They like it the way it is. They like their pew, they like sitting there, they don’t like when someone breaks up that tradition or ritual…In a changing world, one of the places you want to feel rooted is your church.”

On hiring a Spanish-speaking pastor: You have to change staff to attract different people. This has been an important change, but it’s one we’re still learning to navigate.

On where the fear comes from: The traditional people will say, “That’s not who we are.” We have to constantly be reminded that we’re here to be lights in the world and ambassadors for Christ.

On blessing and adding: It’s not about coming in and saying, “We didn’t do it right, and we have to do it right now.” It’s about seeing what’s working, addressing the real needs, and also letting go of some things from the past.

On seeing hope: We’re seeing a shift in how people are looking outward and wanting to make a difference in others’ lives. I love hearing when someone says, “The church has been wonderful and like family.”

On what to pray for: We want to a light amidst the challenges. We want to embrace the Spanish-speaking community. We don’t want to create a church within a church, but instead have two families living together.

On the Flooding in Houston

After this episode was recorded, the greater Houston area (including Spring) was hit with flooding. Below is an update from Reverend Nazarian:

The rain just kept on coming, and the flooding is unfathomable.  A number of our church members had to be evacuated and lost their homes. But amidst the pounding rain and rising water, another inspiring reality shined through — neighbors helping neighbors! First-responders risked their lives to save others. Ordinary citizens brought their own boats to rescue thousands of people. Total strangers worked endlessly to help stranded families. And the news keeps using the phrase, “Neighbors Helping Neighbors,” which is our community assistance ministry’s motto!

If you would like to give to the disaster relief fund (and designate your giving for Northwoods Presbyterian Church), you can do so here. Thank you for joining with us in praying for and supporting this church.

About Reverend Paul Nazarian

Dr. Nazarian earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of California-Davis, his MDiv from San Francisco Theological Seminary, and his DMin from Columbia Theological Seminary. He is married and has two college-age children. In 1984, he was ordained in the Presbyterian Church. Before being named senior pastor at Northwoods, he served nine years at the First Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana.

About Listening in Place

After graduating with a Master of Divinity from The Seattle School in 2016, Cassie launched Listening in Place, a venture in which she is collecting stories from pastors and practitioners throughout the United States who are practicing new, innovative, and compelling visions of what it means to be the church. And for more from Cassie, check out the presentation of her Integrative Project, “The Pastoral Both/And: A Complicated Story.”

Music courtesy of