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20 years of fellowship, family and change

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By Kelly LeVan

It’s been 20 years, more than 760 sermons and countless joys for Tim and Tanya Stidham, ministers at the Los Alamos Church of Christ.The Rev. Tim Stidham and his wife came to Los Alamos in September 1987, when Tim took a position as youth minister at the church. Within a few years, he accepted a position as preacher, and has led the congregation ever since.Before coming to Los Alamos, Tim served in Jacksonville, Ark.; Valonia, Ark.; Whitesboro, Texas; and Sherman, Texas. The couple has also lived in Abilene, Texas, where Tim earned his master’s degree from Abilene Christian University. “Wherever we moved, we always felt like God was moving us,” Tim said. But God seems to have given the Stidhams – and Los Alamos – a gift in keeping the couple here for 20 years.“Los Alamos is home,” Tanya said. “Our children went to school here. Three were married here. This is home to our family.”Tim added, “I know everybody – and their kids, and most of their dogs. Most of the kids (at the church) have only known one minister through college and that lends some stability to their lives.” Unless God says otherwise, the couple plans to stay here “forever,” Tim said. The couple and their congregation have been through a lot together over the years. The church auditorium was remodeled in 1997, a major project for the group. The Cerro Grande Fire affected many church members in 2000, and ultimately gave them an opportunity to come together and “really step up,” Tim said.The Church of Christ also underwent a philosophical change. When they first arrived, Tanya worked at Mountain Elementary School and as the church secretary. Then in 1999, the church formally acknowledged that the work she was doing – including a great deal of mentoring and counseling – didn’t qualify as secretarial so much as ministerial.“The church recognized me as a women’s minister,” Tanya said. “For them to recognize the job I was doing was one of my biggest highlights.”The Church of Christ, especially over the last few years, Tim said, has become a “priesthood of all believers” where “we are all priests – including women.”He said elevating everyone to the level of priesthood makes “everyone feel responsible, connected and important to the congregation.”Because of this all-encompassing viewpoint, the preacher is not called “Pastor Tim” or “Father Tim,” as he might be under more traditional church models. His congregation calls him simply by his first name, and he calls them by theirs.Tanya and Tim both regularly teach classes at the church in addition to their other projects, Tanya generally leading women’s classes, called “nurture groups” and Tim teaching Sunday adult classes and special “table” classes. The Stidhams’ home, adjacent to the church building, features a large, 12-foot-by-four-foot table that they and members of their congregation built about 10 years ago with the idea of adding a little symbolism to the format of their lessons.“It’s more of a personal discussion than Bible study,” Tim said. “It seems to connect to people … In traditional cultures, people sit around a table for fellowship. Even in our culture, people meet around a table at Starbucks to talk. We added the spiritual dimension of really sharing who we are.”Over the years, Tim has led several table classes, which often include meals as well, including four groups of “The Table of Transformation.” In January, he will begin teaching “The Table of Identity.” The new class will explore “who we are in Christ,” Tim said. “The New Testament uses a wide variety of metaphors, and each lesson will explore a different one.”Examples include “child of God,” “born-again” and “redemption” – each of which suggests unique facets of an individual’s relationship with God, Tim said.“If we are feeling lonely, it helps us to know we are part of the family of God,” he said. “If we are feeling worthless, it helps to know we are His servants.”The Stidhams said it has been an honor to teach, preach and guide their congregation, which they described as “blended,” “family-focused,” “open to new ideas and teaching” and “very generous with time, money and support.”The church is munificent with its gratitude, too, giving the couple a 10-day, all-expenses-paid cruise to the Caribbean in celebration of 20 years in Los Alamos.“I didn’t know if I’d like a cruise but it was really nice,” Tim said.Tanya added, “We met in Guam as teenagers, where we – Tim especially – snorkeled and scuba-dived a lot. It was fun for us to go see underwater again.”