This Church Knew the End Was Near

Within two years of arriving as pastor of Community Covenant Church in Kirkwood, Missouri, Chad Wible could see that his declining congregation might not survive. The church’s three-acre property was prime real estate in a thriving community of St. Louis County, a stark contrast from the diminishing group within the building on Sundays. As Kirkwood grew, it became clear to Wible and others at Community Covenant that the church could still make a difference in the community, but all of its resources were tied up in maintaining its scenic property and paying two full-time staff members. With less than 40 members by 2018, where there once could be 200, the church was running out of money. Wible would need to think outside the box — outside the four walls of their building. 

So he and his leadership team began to envision how selling the property could enable the church, now called Embrace, to continue its work and to meet the needs of the community. 

“I always wondered: Is there another way to be and do church, are there other ways to provide pastoral presence?” Wible said in an interview for Common Good. Little did he know that leading the church through exploring new ventures for the congregation’s ministry would be an audition for a job that enabled him to go bivocational in 2020.

Wible and the leaders of Embrace spent two years exploring the needs of the Kirkwood community, and they quickly recognized their unique position to care for Kirkwood’s large community of adults with special needs, as Kirkwood is a premier destination for special-needs services in Saint Louis County, and many families relocate to the community so their children can receive the support of the Kirkwood School District as well as Saint Louis County’s Special School District. Along with his associate pastor, Wible trained through Operation HOPE to craft a business plan for redirecting the church’s resources in that direction.  

The Embrace team created a job- training program to foster meaningful employment in adulthood.


Map of St. Louis region
The Kirkwood neighborhood lies just to the southwest of St. Louis’s city center.


Wible said that some members did leave after Embrace sold its building, but also describes the congregation as “courageous and understanding amid the changes that needed to happen” for the church to survive and adapt. 

Prior to enrolling at Denver Seminary, Wible had spent six years working in information technology for a large corporation. Looking back, Wible says he can see how that experience translated into a pastoral presence that dignifies the workplace experience. In turn, his full-time pastoral work would come to equip him for a return. In addition to serving as Embrace’s pastor, Wible now works as the full-time director of operations for an employee assistance program (EAP). As a bivocational pastor, Wible said he feels he has the opportunity to model for his coworkers and congregation how to live faithfully in the ordinary. 

“There are no privileged positions in the community of faith,” Wible said, “We’re called into God’s mission to work alongside God in the world to help bring about the kingdom of God as co-creators. In essence, that makes us missionaries each and every day of our lives, wherever we go in the good and the bad, in all the ordinariness — it’s a complete life of faith.”

Longtime members of Embrace, to whom Wible now reports as his employers, see it the same way. Susan Skinner joined the church now known as Embrace nearly 25 years ago. But in 1982, she was working with a nonprofit and founded an employee assistance program, which contracts directly with employers to provide counseling services, financial and legal consultation, and mental health support for workers and their families. A decade later she spun off Personal Assistance Services as a for-profit business. After her conversion in 1998, however, Skinner’s faith began to shape her approach to care not just for the clients at PAS, but for the employees, too. 

While Skinner says she respects the various faith backgrounds of employees and clients, she’s open about her Christian faith. Because of that, the company provides “faith-sensitive services” for their clients, which include seminaries and ministries.

Eileen Schmitz has served as vice president for PAS since 2013. Schmitz joined Skinner at Covenant Community Church, now called Embrace, around the same time she joined PAS full time and became a key lay leader for the church in worship and administration. 

Like Wible, Schmitz sees her responsibilities with PAS and Embrace as “inviting God to sanctify” the ordinary. Schmitz said in an interview that her sense of fulfillment in the ministry of the workplace begins with how PAS treats its employees: “We believe in caring for the whole person both in the services we deliver and in the people entrusted to our care as employees.” Schmitz says PAS has never laid anyone off in 40 years out of that commitment.

After seeing Wible’s leadership and strength of character during his first three years as their pastor, Skinner and Schmitz decided he was the right person to provide system infrastructure and change management for PAS, which serves clients around the globe. In 2020, they brought Wible on staff as operations manager and since promoted him to director of operations.

Since the church’s sale of its property, PAS has become a hub for Embrace, its Sunday dinner services held in PAS office space and its job-training venture guided by associated PAS leadership. When the church began exploring business models to implement its program for adults with special needs, Skinner connected with a young aspiring coffee shop owner, Olivia Tischler. 

The church decided to invest its funds in Teleo Coffee. And Skinner mentored Tischler while Schmitz helped the shop manage its finances. Teleo Coffee opened in Kirkwood in fall 2021, and in addition to overseeing the job training and employment program for adults with special needs, the shop also combats a loneliness present in the community even before the pandemic by its open and welcoming space. “The environment we create for our employees is one of encouragement, love, support, and community, and it’s evident because I have people emailing me every week wanting to work here,” Tischler said in an interview. Embrace and Teleo partner with Kirkwood High School’s special-education program and families to address the employment. 

But more than simply providing the training for future employment, Embrace has provided the funds for Teleo to hire two part-time employees and will continue to raise funds to expand the job training program at the coffee shop.

“Work is part of human life but we get to work in ways where God is bringing his kingdom to bear in this world,” Wible said about the church’s job training program.  “For our church we identified a need where we could do something. … It brings work for people, and along with that, dignity, income, and economic growth.” 

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