Colby Olson was on his way to Lakeville on June 4 to watch his son Troy play a tennis match for Monomoy Regional High School against Apponequet in the MIAA Division 3 South team tournament when he detoured off of the highway and found himself driving on Route 105 through Rochester center.
Olson spotted a white church building off the road and felt compelled to ask God to strengthen its people whom he had never met.
“Then I drove on, and then my phone took me a completely different way and I went home,” he recalled.
Little did Olson know several months later, he would become the new pastor at First Congregational Church.
The email came last year while he was pastoring at South Chatham Community Church, a non-denominational Protestant Christian church he had been serving since 2011.
“It was revitalization work. I felt that it was in a real healthy place,” said Olson.
A devout, 45-year-old family man whose kids play sports and at times have been coached in baseball and/or soccer by their father, Olson built his ministry up and down the eastern seaboard by revitalizing and starting churches. When he was asked to interview for the job by First Congregational’s search committee, Olson requested to interview in person. Upon driving to the church, he realized it was the very one he had recently prayed for.
The lengthy selection process culminated with a “candidating” weekend in which the congregation asked for 90 minutes to grill him with questions, personal and theological. His wife Joyce participated, he preached a sermon, and finally on January 4, he was voted in.
South Chatham wanted Olson to stay longer and First Congregational “wanted me to not rush,” he recalled. Olson’s uncommonly smooth transition was made even smoother when his colleague, Adam Miller, took over the pastoral role at South Chatham.
Olson’s career roadmap reads like that of a minor-league baseball coach.
Before spending the last eight-plus years in South Chatham, he was in downtown Providence (where his car was totaled). Before that, he ministered to two churches in Gainesville, Florida, one of which he started, resulting in a documentary that led to outside interest in his services. In New York, he revitalized an existing ministry and, before that, had worked in Kentucky and Georgia.
A native of nearby Halifax, Olson graduated from Silver Lake Regional High School and split his undergraduate studies between Becker College in Worcester and Asbury University, a Christian college in Kentucky where he studied applied communications. He did graduate study in Nyack, New York, at Alliance Theological Seminary, an evangelical institution affiliated with Nyack College and the Christian and Missionary Alliance. In 2003, he was ordained and commissioned under that banner.
Freshly out of school, he participated in missions in El Salvador and Mexico, helping construct buildings for ministry and to clothe and feed the poor.
Now Olson brings his own path of history to a church steeped in it.
First Congregational is an independent church affiliated with the 65-year-old National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (NACCC) and, locally, the MACCC.
Congregational churches overall date back to the 17th century, and a drive through any of New England’s rural areas discovers these churches and their white steeples against the scenic melding of fog and foliage. But each church has its own story, and Olson says he and First Congregational “hit it off” in their first introduction.
Olson is aligned with the church’s conservative brand of orthodox Protestant Christian doctrine that is focused on daily reading of the Bible and his belief in personal salvation and transformation through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Though his specialty is revitalization, Olson believes his work at First Congregational will stand on the shoulders of those who came beforehand.
“I think the church is at a great place,” he said. “They had an interim pastor who did some good work and set a good course. The church set a vision prior to my arrival.”
Olson is eager to set that vision in motion.
What COVID-19 aka coronavirus hasn’t allowed him to do in person he is doing with his computer and his telephone. Olson was supposed to deliver his first sermon on March 15, but wound up streaming his message via Facebook Live. He wasn’t looking for laughs when he said in his sermon, “If you have extra toilet paper, knock on a neighbor’s door and ask them if they need toilet paper,” but he is a person who seems to embrace a good laugh on himself.
“I’m no better than anybody else. God’s working in my life,” he said.
Olson’s immediate goals are to get his parishioners to know each other better and to enable them to share their testimony of what God has done in their lives.
“We want to reach as many people as possible with the gospel and love on as many as we can,” he said.
Estimating over 100 attendees on the average Sunday, he said, “We’re not a megachurch,” but the Olsons are loving on one more these past few weeks after welcoming Tate, a newborn boy, into the family.
“It was amazing. I pulled his head out and caught him. A midwife allowed me to do that. It was the most moving, powerful and spiritual (moment) of my life,” said Olson, making sure to include the birth of his other children, 20-year-old Cecilia, 18-year-old Kelsey, and 16-year-old Troy.
Joyce Olson is a licensed clinical social worker. After growing up on a farm in Mount Blanchard, Ohio, she attended The Ohio State University and Boston College. Now she has her own practice, Metamorphosis Counseling Services, in Dennis, specializing in trauma work and also offering Nouthetic-style (Christian-based) counseling.
First Congregational’s website (rochestercongregational.com) has been updated with a more visitor-friendly look, and the church is hoping to get Olson’s sermons onto ORCTV.
Until then, he can be seen on Facebook Live at 10:00 am on Sundays.
By Mick Colageo