The Rev. Christopher deForest lived and worked across the country and around the world. Now he is calling Lehighton and the Mahoning Valley his home.
DeForest is the new pastor at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mahoning Township.
His Service of Installation was held on Sunday, Feb. 26, with the Rev. Samuel Zeiser, Bishop of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), presiding. Clergy from across the area attended, as well as visitors from as far away as Cape Cod, Mass.
Before relocating to the area, deForest worked for 15 years in corporate communications with Tupperware in Kissimmee, Fla.; and PartyLite Gifts in Plymouth, Mass..
In 2003, his call to ministry led deForest and wife, Allison, to quit their jobs, sell their home and leave behind their lives in Cape Cod, moving their two young daughters into a small apartment on the campus of Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.
In 2009, they moved again this time, to the eastern coast of Scotland, where Allison received a master's degree from the University of St. Andrews.
They returned to the United States in 2010, with the hopes of finding a home where they could settle down. DeForest began looking for a Lutheran congregation to serve, and Allison, a place where she could pursue a doctorate in theology.
"It's truly a miracle, how all the pieces fell in place," deForest said.
First, Allison was given a scholarship to study at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. Then Chris was offered the call to become St. John's new pastor.
They had challenging decisions to make. Should he take the call? Should they live closer to Philadelphia, to shorten Allison's long commute? They prayed, and the answer was clear.
"When we were called by St. John's, we were called to be part of this community. And when we saw Lehighton, we said, 'This is it. This is what we've been looking for.'"
DeForest had grown up in small towns in Tennessee and Virginia.
"I remember what it's like to be surrounded by mountains, to have family all around. That's what I come from. So even though we're newcomers, this place looks familiar. It feels like home," he said.
They bought a house in town, and their daughter Jo is now a junior at Lehighton Area High School. They love attending local sports and community events; and took part in the Christmas Cantata at Zion UCC, and the recent Zion Opera Workshop.
Allison is now commuting to Philadelphia three days a week, which is a strain on their time and their pocketbook living for now on only one income, and with an older daughter, Mallory, still in college in Iowa.
"We try to live small, stay on budget," Chris said. "But these are tough times, and so many people are struggling right now. I know it's hard for some to stay in the area. It's hard to see the good things. But this place is truly blessed in so many ways. We feel very blessed to be here."
In his role as spiritual leader at St. John's, deForest sees good things there as well.
"This is a great place and time to be the church," he said. "St. John's is so rich in traditions and heritage. It has such close ties with family and community. It's already got a reputation for reaching out, for being part of the life of this valley."
The new pastor is especially impressed with the church's fall and spring bazaars.
"Last fall I met more people in that one day that I could see in a whole month of worship and visiting. It was a blast," he said.
Before coming to Lehighton, deForest spent much time overseas doing church and humanitarian work. He led cultural immersion trips to Turkey, China, Korea, and India. His most dedicated work was in Haiti, where he has visited and led groups six different times in the past four years.
"I was supposed to be part of a group going to Haiti, that got caught in the 2010 earthquake. I haven't been able to go back since, but hope to do so," he said.
Leading a group from St. John's and others from the area may be in the future, he admits. But for now, there's much to do right here in daily ministry.
"I have so much to learn. I hope to visit every member, and invite more and more people to join us," he added. "God is up to something very exciting here. I am very grateful to be part of it all."