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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Pastor Pete - CrossWalk Community Church

By Craig Smith

It was in 2015 that Dr. Peter (Pete) Shaw, Pastor of CrossWalk Church in Napa, delivered what he knew would be a “whopper” of a sermon. After the service, it became a topic of discussion throughout the Napa faith community, and lit up online discussion around the country. He had expected some fallout, but couldn’t have anticipated that, within a few years, he would be discharged from a position he held within the church’s regional office, or that CrossWalk would be asked to leave the region. Giving that sermon was a life changing event for Pete and CrossWalk, yet if he had it to do over, he would do the same thing.

Being a Pastor is, so to speak, the family business for the men in Pete’s family. His father and both grandfathers were Pastors. Pete knew before his sophomore year in high school that he would follow their path. He got an undergraduate degree and later attended Northern Seminary, an American Baptist school in Ottawa, Kansas, where he got a Masters in Divinity. He accepted a pastorate at a small church near Chicago. An American Baptist, Pete does not consider himself Evangelical. “I’ve always believed in women’s equality and social justice,” he said. Under his leadership, the church became the first to do “contemporary church” well, from how they spoke about faith to the music in the services. Word of what was happening in that church spread rapidly, and membership was growing quickly. “I think we were on track to keep growing. It was a positive experience for all of us.” 

At the same time, CrossWalk Church in Napa was dying (then known as First Baptist Church). Founded in 1860 as what we would call today an Evangelical church, in the 90’s they suffered two crises, including the Pastor being involved in a scandal and being practically, “run out on the rails,” said Pete. “There were less than a hundred parishioners, and the average age was seventy. It was a challenging environment. The situation was a crucible of suck.” The regional office knew that CrossWalk needed a new Pastor, and recommended only one person for the job: Rev. Peter Shaw from Princeton, IL, the Pastor who had turned his church around in under four years.

Pastor Pete & Lynne

Pete agreed to the assignment, but only after being given carte blanche to do what he felt was needed, and only after the CrossWalk board agreed to put the bylaws on hold. He came to CrossWalk in 1999. Still, it was a bleak situation, the reality of which hit him after about six months of being here. “My wife knew it immediately. In the early days, she would cry on the way home every Sunday.”

Concurrent to that, Pete felt that his theology “wasn’t working anymore,” and by the early 2000’s, “I wasn’t sure I still wanted to be a Pastor.” He decided to immerse himself in his uncertainty by pursuing a doctorate, and did his thesis on soteriology, the “Study of Salvation.” He emerged from his studies with his faith renewed and his commitment to the church strong.

“I wanted CrossWalk to be about equality and equity, and being 100% inclusive.” In around 2008 or 2009, he started “dropping seeds,” as he put it. About homosexuality, “I suggested that we stop making this such a big issue and that there is so much more to talk about. I suggested that we take the Bible seriously but not literally.” He continued to preach like this over the years, and in 2015, after much praying and consultation with the board, decided it was time for the Big Sermon.

“I asked the question, ‘Is God OK with same sex marriage?’ I went through the seven Bible verses people use to dispel homosexuality, pointing out how they didn’t really apply to our contemporary question or context. I reaffirmed that CrossWalk is open to everyone on a spiritual path.

Word of that sermon spread quickly. Two gay men began attending, and eventually asked if they could join the church. Pete said yes. “That’s not what got me fired though,” he said. After attending the church for some time, the two men fell in love and decided to get married. They wanted Pastor Pete to perform the ceremony. For their denominational region, this was crossing a line they wouldn’t allow. “I talked to our board about it, and they were 100% behind whatever I decided to do,” said Pete. He also told the Executive Minister from the Region, who told him it could cost him a part time paid position he held with the Region. “When I told my wife, her first reaction was, ‘You’ll lose that job?’ but she immediately said, ‘Of course you have to perform the ceremony. It’s what we believe in.’” So, with joy in his heart, Pete married the two men. And then the Executive Minister, the same man that had recommended Pete to CrossWalk twenty years earlier, fired him, and told him the church would have to leave the region. CrossWalk has since become part of ABC-USA’s Evergreen region, a good fit for them.

The CrossWalk website says, “CrossWalk is a progressive Christian church in Napa offering an alternative orthodoxy that many people leaving the faith find attractive and compelling. American Baptists, in particular, have been proponents of equality, from the emancipation of slaves to gender equality, and now a growing number of churches on the LGBTQ front.” CrossWalk is very involved in the community. They work with the City and County to serve as an evacuation shelter, and host over 40 twelve step recovery programs each week. Attending CrossWalk is a consciously made choice. “Nobody comes to us by accident, and it’s been that way since 2008,” said Pete. He is proud of how the church has grown, something parishioners would agree is a direct result of his leadership.


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