Amid packing for their move to Saginaw, Mich., Pastor Josh and Brandy Pardee took a break to talk about all that’s been happening for their family. Josh starts next month as senior pastor of Hopevale Church.
Please join us Sunday, April 30, as we honor and thank Pastor Josh, Brandy and their kids for their years at First Free Rockford. We will gather after second service in the Fellowship Hall for snacks and coffee.
Tell me where your heads are at right now. This is a crazy time for you.
Josh: Yeah, it’s an interesting time to be between two places. There’s the reality of saying goodbye and leaving people and wanting to tidy things up and make sure everything’s in line and in order so that there aren’t any gaps in my departure, and then also trying to learn a new culture and a new people and community. It’s been a very busy season, getting pulled in lots of directions with two churches and houses, navigating kids and finishing up the school year and all of that. But overall, I think it’s been fun to see how God’s been at work in it and providing all the way throughout in some ways that we couldn’t have expected.
Brandy: I would say that, too. My head is probably trying to just focus on one moving box at a time or one activity at a time. I’m super grateful for how things are landing, just in the sense that the kids will be able to wrap up the school year. The house stuff fell into place. All the things that could make this exponentially more stressful. I’m just really grateful for the timing of it all and the things that have come about.
You mentioned the house situation. That was quite an interesting set of circumstances.
Brandy: It was Tuesday right before our candidating weekend. Tuesdays are crazy because I usually work in the morning and then try to do (home) school in the afternoon with the boys. Josh called about 2 and mentioned that Kari had come into his office and said, “I know that you’re leaving.” Which was more of the surprise just because we weren’t sharing until anything was official. Ultimately her question was, “Are you going to be selling your house?”
At this point, we’ll paraphrase part of the story. Kari suspected by Josh’s mannerisms that something was up. She Googled him and immediately found the news from Hopevale. She kept this quiet, but she and her husband, Chris, also were looking for a house.
So Kari asked Josh, who called to Brandy: Could she come and see the house in the next couple of hours? The Pardees were leaving the next morning for Saginaw. Brandy had about seven loads of laundry spread out. “Sure, she can come,” she told Josh. But she’ll see the real deal.”
Kari was fine with that. “I raised six kids. It’s fine,” she told Brandy.
Brandy was still standing in the kitchen 45 minutes later when she got a text alert on her phone. It was the Hopevale kids director, who was going to be leaving the church and looking to sell a house. Their congregation didn’t know about it yet.
“No pressure,” she told Brandy, “but if you’re house-looking and want to see our home this weekend when you’re here, before it goes on the market … “
All within 45 minutes, the day before the Pardees were leaving to make a big decision about their future. Two houses, four families. Done.
Brandy’s still smiling about it.
“It was one of those things where it was like, OK, God. I’m a little curious. Whatcha doing here? So, OK, we’ll say yes to all these things right now and we’ll just see what happens.
They close on both houses this week.
What are some things you will miss about Rockford?
Brandy: My friends and the school community. The kids and the families that we do life with. And my other top one would be the Y. Since we moved here it’s been a second family in a different way. Between childcare and classes and the people we’ve gotten to know. I love it. It feels like a heartbeat of the city, this place where people gather. And it’s people from all different walks of life and backgrounds.
Josh: The big thing is relationships. Living in daily life with lots of different people. Working at First Free with the team there, and our Life Group and different serving teams.
One of the realities of being a pastor is you get invited into people’s lives. Oftentimes it’s kind of messy and they’re trying to figure stuff out. It’s sad to say goodbye to some of those relationships where you’ve walked with people for five or six years. You’ve seen marriages that were on the rocks that are now thriving, people who were in crisis who are doing well. That’s exciting on so many levels. Not that we won’t stay in contact, but it’s obviously going to change.
And the Y, too. It’s been a hub for us. We’ve gotten to meet lots of people down there. We see lots of First Free people but also lots of other people. It’s a great microcosm of the city.
What are some points that attracted you both to Hopevale?
Josh: There are lots of similarities between Hopevale and First Free. Both are both multi-generational churches, which is important to Brandy and me. The staff size is similar. They are nondenominational, but essentially they follow something very close to the EFCA statement of faith. And Saginaw is a similar community to Rockford as far as its socio-economic realities.
Brandy: There’s even Japanese Gardens and a children’s museum. I’m like, wait, I never knew that these existed when I came to Rockford and now this place has them, too. So that was not really a selling point but just a little side note.
Josh: The staff and elders and the search team we worked with were all very kind, welcoming, eager to get to know us and excited for the future. They had a great pastor before, Dan Davis, with a long tenure. He was well-loved and created a great culture. So we’re just excited for where they’re at as a church, and jumping in and getting to kind of lead the next chapter and be a part of what God’s going to do in Saginaw.
Brandy: They’re very family oriented. And there seems to be like a real desire by people to do life with one another in an intimate and partnership sort of setting. It’s been exciting to learn about them and hear their hearts.
You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel some imposter syndrome, too—I’m going WHERE, to do WHAT?
Josh: I brought that up in the interview process. It hits me almost every time I write a sermon: I’m not qualified to do this. Someone else should be doing this. The good news is, I’m used to that feeling and I think what’s helpful for me is learning oftentimes to name that. It looks different in different spaces and in different relationships. But it’s just naming inadequacies, or the reality that I don’t have it all together. I plan on not having it all together or figured out. To me, that’s the beauty of the church. We get to journey together in figuring it out. And within the structure that Jesus sets up, there are things like grace, repentance and forgiveness. Things that maybe you can’t find in other spaces in our world.
Call it imposter syndrome or just needing skills at time that you don’t have— but the church, if we lead it humbly and openly, is a great place to model that. Even as a leader, there’s a way to lean into that which is actually healthy.
That’s helpful for me because it takes the pressure off. Not that there aren’t responsibilities, or we don’t work hard or any of those things. But the church is Jesus’ church. It’s not my church or any other pastor’s church. And so, it’s just my job to try to walk faithfully with Jesus as best I can. And to name things that I’m seeing and lead people in ways that I feel like we’re supposed to go, but then also that community piece of walking in grace and forgiveness and mercy.
What are some ways we can be praying for your family?
Brandy: Definitely the transition period. Between packing, having time, energy and space for that, as well as patience with children as we finish the school year … it just feels like a lot to juggle.
Josh: Figuring out what we’re going to do with our kids for school in Saginaw. That’s all still up in the air.
Brandy: And then for community and good friends, especially for the kids. New friends for them and school community. (The kids are 9, 7 and 4.) They’ve expressed their sadness and there’s still definitely tears at times. But there’s also these little pieces of excitement, too.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Josh: We are just so appreciative of our time here and the opportunities and the preparation. We’re sad to be leaving but excited for what God has for us. We want to continue to pursue him and his kingdom and we’re looking forward to the next chapter. Rockford will always be part of our story and we’re grateful for it.
Test your Michigan I.Q.
Next, we quizzed the Pardees about some quirks of living in Michigan.
Q: Is it soda, pop or Coke?
A: Pop (both answered correctly).
Q: Please pronounce the name of the Japanese car that begins with a “T.”
A: TIE-ota (both missed this one).
Q: Better Made is a brand of what?
A: Potato chips. (both missed it)
Q: What is a Michigan left?
A: Josh correctly identified it as “the U-turn thing.” Asked to explain it to a Rockford audience, he said, “I don’t know if I’m qualified yet, but instead of having to turn at the light you usually go through and do a U-turn, then you then go and take a right back where you wanted to take a left.”
Got all of that?
Q: What is a Vernors and what is it used for?
A: Ginger ale. “My grandparents had it all the time,” Josh said.
More specifically, it’s a Michigan brand of ginger ale and it’s used as a home remedy for everything from a sore throat to a stomach ache.
Q: What should you do with your empty pop cans in Michigan?
A: Return them. To get back your 10-cent-per-can deposit. Both knew this one. “On Easter Sunday,” Brandy said, “I had to run into Meijer’s for something. And I saw four guys unloading big bags full of cans out of the back of a truck. It’s Easter Sunday and they were taking them into Meijer to get their money.”
Q: Why is Nov. 15 considered a state holiday in Michigan?
A: Deer season (Josh knew this immediately).
Finally, we listed a few stereotypes about Michiganders to see which ones are already true of the Pardees.
You are already making the Mitten shape of your hand to show people where you live. Josh: “Fact.”
You have either hit a deer with your car or you know at least five people who have. Both: Yep. “That’s a Montana truth as well,” said Josh, who grew up in Montana.
This is from the internet: You hate Ohio with the passion of a thousand burning suns. “Fact,” laughed Josh, a big fan of the University of Michigan Wolverines. “The executive pastor is an Ohio State fan. And the chair elder, who’s going to be down here on the 30th, he and his wife went to Michigan State. So the day that they and they announced I was the candidate, two weeks before I went up there, Paul the executive pastor looks at Bill and says ‘Hey, Bill. How funny is it that you as a Michigan State fan and I as a Buckeye fan put together a search team, hired a firm, did a national search and brought in a Michigan Wolverine fan?’
“My family is all from the U.P. originally, so the family’s pretty split. Half cheer for Michigan and half cheer for Michigan State.”