Sunday marked the end of an era at Rolling Hills Christian Church, and though Pastor Jeff Bigelow delivered his last sermon he insists the church’s best days are ahead.
After 17 years, the 57-year-old pastor stepped down and handed his congregation over to incoming Pastor Bill Search. Search, 40, who moved here with his wife Karen, 38, from Louisville, Ken., takes the pulpit on Sunday, June 3.
“My goal was to pass the baton to the next leader while I was still running with full vigor and enthusiasm,” said Bigelow, who announced his departure last fall. “I just felt in my heart it was time to draw my finish line.
“We think (Search) is an awesome man of God,” he continued. “I think the best days of the church are still ahead … that the church will become all that God wants us to be.”
Church on the mat
Bigelow, a pastor since 1979, and his wife Jerri came to El Dorado Hills after a group approached them about starting a church in 1994. “My first response was, ‘Where is that?’” Jeff recalled. “I had no idea where El Dorado Hills was.”
Nevertheless, the couple packed up the kids and moved to the foothill community. On Easter Sunday, April 16, 1995, Jeff delivered his first sermon to about 100 people at the Oak Ridge High School wrestling room.
The church quickly grew. In three years, the pastor and his congregation moved from the wrestling room to the small gym and to the high school theater before shifting services to the El Dorado Hills Community Services District gym.
In 2002 the church moved to its first building at its current White Rock Road location and in 2007 they relocated to the larger facility that currently holds about 2,200 people every Sunday.
Jeff called the community’s response to Rolling Hills Christian Church “humbling.” When he started the pastor recalled walking neighborhoods and knocking on doors.
“We didn’t know anybody here but our roots went down quickly,” he said. “We have just loved it here. It’s been the best 17 years of our lives.”
Jeff and Jerri watched their children Meredith, now 33, and Joel, now 31, grow up in the community and they watched the community embrace a church that started in a wrestling room.
Making friends and watching the congregation mature has been a highlight, Jeff said. “It’s a joy to see the kids grow up. I’ve gotten to do their weddings … seen their babies.”
“One of the biggest thrills has been working with the leadership of this church … just a phenomenal group of men and women,” Jeff said.
Under that leadership Rolling Hills’ impact on the community and the world has grown exponentially.
Groups have traveled to Mexico, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and other poor countries to offer medical assistance and sports ministry as well as do evangelical work. “Seeing people give up a week of their lives to go and serve has been awesome,” Jeff said.
A lot of work is also done right here at home. This spring dozens gathered to make Easter baskets and sack lunches for the poor and homeless in the community. The parishioners also hold donation drives for food, clothing and other necessities and they work with the Food Bank of El Dorado County to ensure no one goes hungry.
“It’s not quite as glamorous (as an international trip) but people here have done a wonderful job supporting (local programs),” Jeff said.
Though he acknowledges that it will be difficult to stay away, Jeff said the Rolling Hills congregation won’t find “that old pastor” hanging around the church. Pastor Search needs room to define his own role and develop relationships, he explained.
Jeff, with Jerri as his counsel, is exploring several options but hasn’t committed to anything new jobs/projects yet. “Hopefully soon,” he said.
The couple does plan to stay in El Dorado Hills and, Jeff said, he hopes the congregation stays with the church they built. “This church is not about any one pastor,” he said. “It’s about fulfilling God’s mission.”