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Drew McHolm takes over as full-time pastor at Little Brown Church in the Vale

  • Pastor Drew McHolm sings with his wife Jesse Boatright at a Sunday worship service this past January in the Little Brown Church in the Vale. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Pastor Drew McHolm and his wife Jesse Boatright standing outside the Little Brown Church in the Vale. Photo submitted

By Kelly Terpstra,

Nashua and northeast Iowa feel like home for Pastor Drew McHolm and his wife, Jesse Boatright.

So much so they have decided to stay for awhile.

McHolm was installed Sunday as the full-time pastor at the historic Little Brown Church in the Vale in Nashua. The church was first erected in 1864 and made famous by the song “The Church in the Wildwood.”

McHolm got his first taste of an Iowa winter this year after coming to Nashua last August from Austin, Texas, to serve as the church interim pastor. His wife, Jesse, was born and raised in nearby Cedar Falls.

It wasn’t a difficult decision for McHolm and Boatright to stay in Iowa. The congregation’s vote to take the interim tag off McHolm’s title and accept him into a full-time role as leader of the church made it official.

“We were ready for that. We had already fallen in love with the congregation and the ministry here,” said McHolm. “We’re on a year-to-year kind of contract. We see ourselves being here easily five years plus and even longer.”

McHolm’s indoctrination into just how harsh an Iowa winter could be was a reality check — even if the Scottish-born minister was used to below-zero mercury levels back in his homeland.

Record breaking sub-zero temps and massive amounts of snowfall across the Midwest made for a less than pleasant winter for even the most hardened veterans of frigid conditions.

“I finally got to work a snowblower,” McHolm said, smiling.

The weather made McHolm a believer in Iowa in more ways than one. He mentioned the welcoming locals he has had the chance to interact with and teach them his vast knowledge of scripture made the transition a smooth one.

“Everything I’ve heard about the Midwest is true,” said McHolm. “It’s a different pace, but it’s more than that. What we’re liking more than anything is the honest, hard-working people that are in this area.”

McHolm said the Little Brown Church is a lot more than just a place for weddings and funerals. The church has continued to hold worship services every Sunday at 10:15 a.m.

“That’s been the biggest thing, is to try and get awareness among people that, yes, there is an active congregation here. Yes, we do preach the word of God. Yes, it’s a good experience,” said McHolm.

McHolm takes over full-time to lead a growing congregation that now has brought back Sunday school classes and started a mid-week Bible study. He replaces former pastor John Granchie, who moved to a church in Pennsylvania.

“Teaching’s a big issue for me that we bring to the table,” said McHolm. “I’m not a motivational speaker preacher. I preach the Scriptures and let the chips fall where they may. I like to make people think.”

McHolm and Boatright are also musicians who perform an eclectic range of music. Depending on the venue, you can hear traditional gospel hymns, old country, Jimmy Buffett or Simon and Garfunkel. They will sing at the Nashua Country Club this Friday.

“The people here have been great. I guess I’m more of novelty because there’s not too many Scottish preachers around that wear kilts occasionally and sing country music,” McHolm said, laughing.

McHolm and Boatright have used their voices to attract more parishioners to their Sunday services.

“We use our gigs that we sing around the area to attract people to come along,” said McHolm.

McHolm was an office manager at a law firm in Round Rock, Texas, a northern suburb of Austin, prior to moving up to the little town that sits on the line between Chickasaw and Floyd counties. He has been pastor at churches in his native land of Scotland, in Florida and for 15 years in Texas, although this is the first congregation he will lead in more than 10 years.

“What we’re trying to do here is to incorporate some contemporary worship at the appropriate times without dislodging the whole structure of the Sunday service,” he said.

McHolm is all about preserving the past and looking to the future.

“A commitment to the folks was that we’ll not tamper with the historical nature of the church in the sense of modifications and all that. It needs to maintain its historicity and all that,” said McHolm. “At the same time, we want to be a church that is based on history, but is not stuck in it.”

Boatright said she was happy to see the church is now just as vibrant as it has ever been and the pews at Sunday services are filling up fast.

“It’s just really funny because so many things came together for good. Which is strictly a God thing. I literally had to admit to myself that the realization was that God wanted us here and he was making a way for us,” Boatright said.

Boatright, who works for a Swedish technology company that specializes in beauty products, says she sometimes surprises people.

“I like to hit people with humor. I’m not the typical pastor’s wife. I’m not even close to the typical pastor’s wife,” Boatright laughed.

McHolm also commended his wife for all the work she has done with the church to help unite the congregation and make it stronger.

“People love her more than they love me, to be honest with you. They do. Seriously. She fills up a room when she comes in,” said McHolm.

McHolm said there have been some changes made to the weddings that are held almost every weekend at the LBC. Soon-to-be-newlyweds flocking to the church to get married have been a tradition for many years at the church just off Highway 346.

“We’re in the process of overhauling the whole system,” said McHolm. “It’s dramatically different.”

McHolm said he has officiated as many seven weddings on a Saturday since he moved to Nashua. He also has a long-term vision for the church that obviously incorporates a lot more than just ceremonial weddings.

“I don’t mean to brag on my husband, but I do think that Drew sees things that other pastors do not,” said Boatright. “He sees things that are vital to the longevity of a church.”

“It’s a balancing act to make sure the older folks in the congregation that have been here a long time feel comfortable and not threatened,” McHolm said. “But at the same time bring in some new ideas that will attract the next generation and the generation after that.

“I think one of the biggest mistakes pastors make is that they want to be cutting edge, but they forget the people who have maintained the church over the years.”

The annual Marriage Reunion will bring wedded partners from all over the United States to the LBC to renew their vows in the first weekend of August. There will be tents set up and live music being played in a family-friendly environment from Aug. 3-4.

The marriage reunion last summer was the first experience McHolm and Boatright shared with their now full-time friends and church members in Nashua.

“We drove up in the truck forever and to unload stuff and immediately we’re up stage singing,” said McHolm.