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Last updateFri, 17 May 2019 2pm

Young pastor steers Presbyterians toward the ‘practical’

Thomas Kunkel, who in 2011 arrived at the bilingual Christ the Redeemer Church on Guadalajara’s south edge and took over as full-time pastor in 2016, credits his background in counseling for his focus on how core Christian beliefs can be applied in everyday life.

“What difference does the Trinity make to someone when they’re at the grocery store on Tuesday morning?” he quips – and it’s not a rhetorical question. Kunkel, who is from Texas, hosts a weekly bible study “cell” group in the home he shares with his Mexican wife, Sandra, and their 4-year-old son, but he says what he loves most about the meeting is the dynamic part, when the participants talk about how they can apply what they are learning, in order to live in a helpful way.

“I’d say preaching is a relatively small part of what I do here,” he explained. “Counseling and questions are more enjoyable. I love the interaction.”

Kunkel received a master’s in theology with emphasis in counseling at a Westminster Theological Seminary branch in Texas. “I work on relationship issues, depression, anxiety and so on,” he said.

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Apparently reflecting the sincerity of his interest in being helpful, Kunkel not only does counseling, but has tried to give his 200-plus church members the tools to be counselors themselves.

“We’ve had a basic counseling course, to enable members to help a friend over coffee, for example. And it’s paid off. One family lost the father a couple weeks ago, another person struggled with cancer, and members have reached out to them in love and service.” 

Kunkel explained that the nature of the English group – Christ the Redeemer also has two Spanish services every Sunday – has made such reaching out necessary, as members who are expatriates in Guadalajara for a limited time may lack a support system.

“It’s a mixed congregation, with some from the golf club communities out here and others from humble backgrounds. Some are permanent, but some are business or consulate folks who are here for a shorter time, which may give them the feeling, ‘What’s the point of getting involved?’ So we’ve tried to counter that, with pot luck dinners, for example.”

Another example of this involved, bottom-up approach is the organization of the Cornerstone Academy, a bilingual, K-through-junior-high school founded in part in 2005 by Christ the Redeemer’s former pastor, Larry Trotter, and located on and near church premises. Kunkel said that, rather than relying solely on the “professionals – the teachers, the pastor, the church elders, the director – we partner with the parents. We see parents as the principal teachers and so we don’t look at them simply as people who are dropping their kids off at school.”

Kunkel tells a story about his father that serves to illustrate his approach to the ministry. 

“My dad, also named Thomas, was an antique restorer, and he had a motto that, strangely enough, is relevant to me. He said the antiques had been there long before him and would be there long after. ‘My job is to make them the best possible versions of themselves and send them on their way.’”

Christ the Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Callejón del Iris 45, Ciudad Bugambilias, Zapopan; christredeemer.jimdo.com.

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