The community was his parish | ParkRecord.com

The community was his parish

by Andrew Kirk, OF THE RECORD STAFF

Tim Dahlin, founder and director of the Christian Center of Park City, will retire Dec. 1. This week, Rob Harter from Boulder, Colorado was announced as his replacement.

Harter won’t officially take over the center until Jan. 1, and Dahlin said he may stick around for up to one year ensuring a smooth transition. But as soon as the center’s board gives the nod, Dahlin said he and his wife Pattie will move to Indiana to be near their daughter.

"I feel it in my bones it’s time," he said. "We’ve accomplished the move to the new facility (on the corner of Bonanza and Deer Valley Dr.) which has taken it to a whole new level so we will turn it over to younger, more energetic leadership."

Dahlin said he and his wife are both in their 60s and have close family they only see one week a year.

"We’ve taken it to a good place. We have no regrets. It’s been the best 11 years of my life both of our lives," he said.

The Christian Center of Park City was initially conceived by Jim and Susan Swartz. Dahlin had come to Utah in 1997 with another ministry to organize a Billy Graham-style "crusade." Some of the events were held in Park City where he met the Swartz family.

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The crusade took years of preparation and required coordination with churches throughout the region. The Swartz family wanted someone in Utah working full time to network churches and allow similar events to happen more often. They offered to underwrite initial funding to begin a center.

"There was no picture of what that would look like. It was undefined," he said.

In January of 2000 Tim and Pattie Dahlin started work. The first year they met with all the pastors in the area and organized interdenominational events and support for charitable ministries.

Today the Christian Center is well known for its social services, but that wasn’t always the plan, he said. For the past 11 years the center has hosted Friday prayer groups, counseling (both spiritual and professional), and support for local missions to the Navajo nation.

The social services element of the center evolved gradually, he explained.

As he met with local churches, he noticed each was trying to store cans of food for people in need. That kind of service requires storage space and administration both of which the churches struggled to provide, he said.

So the Christian Center became the food pantry for the Park City area. The first year only a few dozen people accessed its supplies. Dahlin estimates the pantry had 39,000 client visits in 2009.

Next, churches asked if it would do the same for collections of clothing and furniture. The Christian Center then began a thrift store. This was especially useful to the hundreds of international workers who come to Park City every ski season.

When asked what accomplishment he is most proud of during 11 years in Park City, Dahlin said it is the work he’s done with those international students.

"We’ve become a home away from home for these kids at a very impressionable time in their lives," said.

Dahlin said he can also relate to them. For a year beginning in 1967, he traveled the world with a singing group.

Although he does hold "Tim’s Time" during the weekly winter dinners featuring a Bible lesson, the goal has never been to proselytize to the international workers. Instead, it has always been "to show them that people really care," he explained.

Park City during ski season can be a very materialistic place. If that’s all these young people saw of Americans, Dahlin said he would worry what impression they would leave with.

"They’re young, impressionable and sharp. They’re seeing what we’re like, and what our values are. If they only see our materialism, they’ll miss the real America," he said.

That’s a unique form of ministry, and Dahlin acknowledges it.

From day one the center was never intended to be in competition with local churches, but instead to bring them together. As years went by, it became evident local pastors preferred to work independently, so the center focused on doing the work they struggled to perform.

Dahlin said that was fine with him. Ordained in 1980, he worked as a traditional pastor for 13 years. During that time his favorite part of the job was visiting people and talking to them about real problems.

"You can impress people from the pulpit, but the only real way to impact their lives is one-on-one," he said.

Dahlin said he was disappointed that being a pastor didn’t have more influence. People too often went home from church and nothing much changed.

"From the beginning, (the center) was not going to be about me or a personality, but programs and services that impact people one-on-one," he said. "This was a reaction against 19 years of working in the church I wanted to make the community my parish."

The motto of the Christian Center is to meet people at their point of need as an expression of God’s love. Dahlin is fond of saying volunteers at the center love because God first loved us. Christ is the focus of the center’s programs even though they are not there to proselytize or convert.

"We develop a base to talk about Christ," Dahlin explained. "We build credibility."

He said the center doesn’t focus on labels like Methodist, Catholic or LDS.

"God doesn’t look at labels," he said. "We’re not talking about doctrinal differences."

Dahlin said his replacement, Rob Harter, was selected by the board and described him as enthusiastic, a "self starter" and experienced at working with teams.

He’s been a pastor in the Denver area for about 10 years and is comfortable with social networking and working with young people.


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