By Susan Shinn
Judson and Carrie Merrell’s first child, a daughter, is due in October.
Judson talks excitedly about some bedding they found for the nursery in a catalog. It was on sale, but Judson wanted to wait a few days to buy it. When they decided to order it, it was already gone.
But Judson got on eBay, and found it for much less than it had been in the catalog.
Things just have a way of working out sometimes.
Like Judson’s first call as an ordained Lutheran minister.
He’s pastoring a church where his grandfather once served.
Judson’s first reaction to going to seminary was “Heck no!”
“I was in my first year of working on staff at Lutheridge,” says Judson, 27. “All my friends from Lutheridge were going to seminary. I was going to be an engineer. I had plans.”
Judson’s undergraduate degree from UNC-Charlotte is in computer engineering.
But God, it seems, had other plans.
“My friends were like, you’re coming, right? I said, OK, I’ll give it one year, then that’s it.”
At UNCC, Judson had become involved in the Lutheran Campus Ministry Program, and had taken a leadership role.
Encouragement came from his home congregation, Union Lutheran.
“I had a few people at church tell me, you ought to think about seminary,” Judson says.
Others saw the potential in Judson before he did.
Once he arrived at seminary, he already had many friends there, and made many more.
He and Carrie ó they met at Lutheridge when she served as camp nurse ó married June 18, 2005, before his third year of seminary, an internship year.
Carrie kept her job as a nurse in Columbia, commuting between there and Summerville, where Judson was serving a church.
She’s kept the same schedule after their move, although she’ll look for a new job once the baby arrives.
“We’ll handle that as we can,” Judson says.
Judson began the call process in December.
It’s kept confidential, Judson explains, to be fair to candidates, so as not to be a competition.
Judson is the son of Dawn and Frank Merrell of Salisbury. His brother is the late Franz Merrell.
Dawn told her son, “The Lord knows where you’re going.”
In January, he found out he’d be in Region 9, the southeastern United States. Then he found out he was being sent to South Carolina.
“South Carolina was actually my first choice,” Judson says. “North Carolina and South Carolina are highly coveted synods. Everybody wants to get in here.”
Of the 250 pastoral candidates nationwide, nearly half requested Region 9, Judson says. And half of those requested North Carolina. That state took seven, as did South Carolina.
“I’m lucky to be in South Carolina,” Judson says. “I consider myself very lucky.”
Judson and Carrie met with Bishop David Donges of the South Carolina Synod in March.
The bishop had a particular church in mind for Judson, Springs of Grace Lutheran Church in Boiling Springs, S.C.
Could he give them Judson’s name?
Certainly, Judson said.
During the interview process, Judson’s parents reminded him that his maternal grandfather had served the original congregation.
“It’s just neat,” Dawn says. “There are a lot of unique things about Judson. He is a direct descendant of the Union founder.”
Nativity Lutheran Church was organized in 1937. The Rev. Vernon A. Frick was pastor there from 1957 to 1961.
Nativity was dissolved 11 years ago, and land was purchased from the sale of the building to start a mission congregation.
Many of the members ended up at the new congregation.
The congregation was reformed as Springs of Grace.
“I am actually their first called pastor,” Judson says. “I just thought that was pretty neat.”
Judson has run into a few people in Boiling Springs who knew his grandfather.
One woman stopped by to see him recently. His grandfather had performed her wedding.
She wanted to check out the new guy, Judson says.
“I fit right in here,” says Judson, who graduated from East Rowan High School. “These people are country folks.”
Since he began work July 1, Judson has been busy.
“I think people waited until I got here to get sick or be in the hospital,” he says. “I drove to Asheville today to see a member in the hospital. I’ve had several surgeries already.”
Judson and Carrie are getting to know the members of their congregation through cottage meetings. About 12-15 members meet for a covered dish dinner in different homes, and get to know once another over dessert.
For now, Judson is working some at home and some at the church.
“I commandeered a table I can spread out on,” he says.
He doesn’t really have an office there, which he says is fine because the church is renting a building for now.
Judson has developed a format for the weekly bulletin and picks out all the hymns. He has no secretary, but a member of the congregation makes copies for him.
The congregation has about 45 members, Judson says, but attendance and offerings are up.
“We have four new members who want to join,” he says. “That’s a start.”
Although the South Carolina Synod probably considers him a mission developer, Judson doesn’t see himself that way.
“I don’t think God cares how many people are in the pews,” he says. “I’m concentrating my ministry in Boiling Springs.”
He wears his clerical collar to Wal-Mart and Lowe’s.
“I’m trying to make myself visible that way,” he says. “If nothing else, just being nice to people.”
It’s going to be a big year for Judson.
He graduated in May. He started his new job this month. His ordination service is Sunday at Union. He and Carrie bought a house.
And Addison Claire is due Oct. 6.
“All of our good news happens at once,” says Judson, who tries to keep organized and plan ahead. “You know me. I don’t want to be stressed out about anything.”
Contact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or email@example.com.
By Susan Shinn