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Father, son tend to different flocks across town
• Chris Henry is new pastor of Valley Christian
Chris Henry Herb Henry
Chris Henry (left) was introduced to Valley Christian Church as a toddler by his father, Pastor Herb Henry (who now is at Richland Faith Assembly of God). Now Chris is the pastor of the downtown Ceres church. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Things have come full circle for Chris Henry and his father, Herb Henry.

The father and son now pastor different churches in Ceres, quite possibly making them the first father-son to pastor different flocks in the history of Ceres.

In the mid-1970s, Herb and his wife Nancy spent some time at Valley Christian Center with their toddler son.  Herb was the choir director.  On Oct. 13 Chris Henry officially became its pastor after the September departure of Chris Grigson who has attended the flock since 2015.

“We brought him through the doors when he was six weeks old at this church. Of course we had no idea he’d be here as the pastor many years down the road.”
Herb Henry on his son Chris

“We brought him through the doors when he was six weeks old at this church,” said Herb. “Of course we had no idea he’d be here as the pastor many years down the road.”

Locals throughout the Valley might recognize that both father and son are part of the Herb Henry Family, a Christian singing group that has changed members over the decades but which included Chris’ mom, Nancy, and sisters Angela and Amanda. Herb also pastors Richland Faith Assembly of God Church in Ceres where Chris was recently the youth pastor.

Dad thinks his son has great opportunity with the downtown location of Valley Christian Center at 2745 Second Street, close proximity to the freeway and ample room for programs.

“I said, ‘Son, you’ve got a lot of capital here,’” said Herb. “People have really invested in this church and it’s time for it to rise again. It really is. It’s time for a new day.”

Chris has been in medical sales for 20 years and after he was laid off from his job in Modesto, a year ago had landed his “dream job” as Business Development Director for Sonora Adventist Hospital in Sonora. He knew he had to walk away, however.

“As soon as I took the job, I knew that God was still calling me to ministry,” said Henry. “I can still remember just praying about it and hearing him say, ‘Boy, this is just a bridge. Don’t spend too much time looking at the water.’ So I kind of knew that this was not going to be a permanent place, this ultimate position I’d always wanted.”

Despite the good pay and great staff in a foothill region that he enjoys, Henry responded when Gregson approached him to say he was leaving the church.

At the time Chris was also toying with the opportunity to sing full-time with the Liberty Quartet based in Boise, Idaho. Henry, 44, also turned down a pastoral role in the Monterey area – with a view of the Pacific Ocean – but realized that the 800-square-foot parsonage was too small for his wife and three children, aged 8, 12 and 14 while rents in that area are too expensive for a pastor’s salary.

The church congregation – like many in America – has receded in recent years. On the Sunday he was invited to guest preach and test the waters, Valley View had only 25 attending and only one teen and one young boy. That’s significant when you learn that 300 attended decades ago. 

“Every time we’d come here our hearts would break because there were no children,” said Chris. “We have three children … and that was one of the things that made us a little hesitant because there’s no children’s programs. But that’s also what pulled us because there were no children’s programs.”

He feels inspired to transform the downtown church of mostly older folks into one where families and children feel at home.

“One of the first things I told them is ‘If you bring us on, it’s going to get noisy around here. I need you to be okay that it’s going to be noisy, and by noisy I mean kids you’re going to hear kids, and kids running around and misbehaving maybe by some standards.’ To me it’s the sign of life.”

To bring back families, wife Beverly, who is a teacher at a private Christian school in Oakdale, will be helping with children’s ministries. In fact, at Richland Faith, Beverly developed a Vacation Bible School 10 years, growing it from 35 to 135 kids over the past decade.

“We are trying to do the same thing here,” he said. “They had no children’s ministries here to speak of when we got here so the first thing we did Sunday morning was start a children’s church and we had nine kids the first Sunday.”

His top goal is to impact families, children and the community.

Pastor Henry notes that the world is a vastly different place than when he was a toddler and his parents had a role at the church.

“The 1970s was still part of an era when most Americans went to church,” he said. “In that day we thought about sending missionaries across the world, sharing the gospel and yet there are people who live within 200 yards of this place who’ve never heard of Jesus and that’s really the fault of the church.”

Henry said his goal is to not take people from other churches but wants to “help people build a relationship with God the father. I don’t think they know how much they need that relationship.”

He hopes to convey that the Christian faith can offer love, fellowship and hope to all.

“We’re here to change the world,” he said as he reached for a handwritten note from a junior high girl who attends Richland Faith where he was youth pastor for four years. Her life turned around from a pursuit of drug use, contempt for church members, hatred of others, physical fights with peers and coarse language. Chris said it was a change brought about by “Jesus Christ through us loving her.” The church became the family she didn’t have at home.

“She came from a point of she hated us and we are at war with each other to a point of being family and weeping when we left each other. She changes us, we changed her. We want to see that on a huge scale here where we’re changing children, where we ‘re changing teenagers, where an adult whose lost his job, who’s lost his spouse, who’s lost his friends, who’s lost everything important to him but then walks into a church and finds the one thing that really matters – which is a relationship with Jesus. That’s the change we want to see. Every service will have purpose.”

Church services at Valley Christian start at 10:30 a.m. Sundays. Eventually his goal is to add services and programs when we can make sure they have purpose. On the near horizon is a Wednesday evening service. Henry is looking for volunteers to conduct kids’ clubs and is also seeking to hire a youth pastor to reach out to teens.

“We’ve got a high school down the street with a thousand kids who are walking in darkness. We want to provide peace to those teenagers.”

Sister Angela, who spent time leading worship at Ceres Christian Church for five years with the late Pastor Rob Hidahl, is coming aboard to lead worship service. 

The elder pastor predicts great days for his son’s church, which had an attendance of 50 on Chris’ first day of Oct. 13.  He saw that increase in numbers as a “good start.”

“It’s a challenging time for churches,” said Herb. “It’s been a challenging time for this church but I think it’s a new day for this church. Chris has a great family and they have a lot to offer in leadership and I think they’re going to be able to see this church rise again to a great level of ministry. This is an historic church. It was started over 100 years ago actually.”

Chris said he plans to use a blend of modern contemporary worship songs with the old hymns during worship.

“We’ll do one or two hymns every service and it’s not because they’re old – it’s because they’re good.”

Herb Henry and Nancy Henry
Nancy and Herb Henry in the 1970s when he was pastor of Valley Christian Church. Son Chris was a baby at the time but is now pastor of the same church.