Calvary Chapel Truckee, CA: Brian Larson’s Faithful & Fruitful Ministry
Story by Margot Bass
Photos by Jim Garrison
During 38 years of faithful ministry in a high school auditorium, Senior Pastor Brian Larson witnessed many come—and go—through the doors of Calvary Chapel Truckee, CA. Among them were a heroic airline pilot, a man fleeing the mafia in New York, and a young woman overtaken by the occult. They, like many others, entered as unbelievers but left born-again and on fire for Jesus Christ.
In October 2019, Brian retired at age 74 from the Calvary Chapel he and his wife Joyce planted in 1981; in April 2020, Gary Barrow stepped in as the new senior pastor. Brian and Joyce recently moved to Connecticut to live with one of their daughters. During their years in Truckee, they raised six children, and now enjoy 17 grandchildren.
Former Calvary Chapel Truckee Senior Pastor Brian Larson encourages a member of his congregation.
“It’s been the greatest privilege of my life to have pastored that church all those years,” Brian exclaimed gratefully. “And I know that God’s got more for me now. We’re in a new era, and I’m excited to see what it’s going to be. But I’m sure I’ll always look back at Calvary Chapel Truckee as the centerpiece of my ministry.” Yet, he acknowledged that doing ministry hasn’t always been easy in this beautiful, tiny mountain community in the High Sierras, just 10 miles north of Lake Tahoe.
Brian recalled a distant past when he and Joyce, then a young couple, left family in Southern California to minister in Truckee, first in a denominational church and later as a Calvary Chapel-affiliate. “God sent me to the mountains to bring good news,” he confirmed. That day, his mother handed him a written Scripture, Isaiah 52:7, that became his theme verse: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Joyce Larson (right), Brian’s wife of 50 years, shares memories with Lynette Cardinale, a recently widowed long-time worshipper at Calvary Chapel of Truckee.
“I had no idea what I was getting into when I came to Truckee,” Brian admitted. “There have been a lot of ups and downs, but God has been with us all the way through.”
One challenge was the unsuccessful search for a permanent facility. “It seems like we ran into roadblock after roadblock,” Brian observed. Several times, they were warned that they would lose the school space. At one point, the superintendent of schools surprisingly told him after driving past the parking lot one Sunday, “’It looks like the entire town of Truckee goes to church at the high school. Let’s work something out so you can stay right where you’re at.’ I finally decided, I was going to have to leave before we got our own place,” he said with a laugh. In fact, that’s what happened—after COVID-19 restrictions closed down the school in March, Calvary Chapel Truckee signed a lease for another space.
Another hurdle was that people come and go in Truckee, making it a fellowship in constant flux. “In the winter you get deep snow and freezing temperatures. A lot of the time, Truckee is the coldest place in the nation. After a winter or two here, people leave. I’ve called it ‘The Calvary Chapel of the Revolving Doors,’” he explained. At its height, approximately 300 adults and 200 children attended. By the time Brian left, the church population, largely older adults, had dwindled significantly.
Pastor Brian Larson shares a special moment with two members of Calvary Chapel Truckee.
However, he also described the fluctuation as a blessing. “A young lady several years ago told me, ‘God’s got us here to light a fire in people’s hearts. And then we go with that fire to wherever God sends us.’ That’s the perspective that’s kept me going all these years,” Brian reflected. “If I could get on a time machine and drive myself to different times in our church history, [there] would almost be different congregations. But the beauty of it is that there has always been fruit here. A good work was going on here and people were getting fed God’s Word. We were seeing people get saved, going out in service for the Lord, and were sending missionaries all over the world.”
At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria … Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Acts 8: 1b, 4
Brian also led his congregation in nine trips to Israel over the years. On the last, in 2019, his administrative assistant Rhea Padellford was able to go. She fondly remembered a time at the Dead Sea when Brian, who has weak knees and was leaning on two young men holding him up, pointed across the water to Mount Nebo, excitedly telling them a story. “You see that mountain over there? That’s where God took Moses to show him the Promised Land!”
Pastor Brian Larson wipes his eyes during his farewell service at Calvary Chapel Truckee, CA, on October 13, 2019; the service was held in the Truckee High School auditorium, where Calvary Chapel of Truckee met for most of Pastor Brian’s 38 years as senior pastor.
A Fruitful Ministry
Brian shared several stories of people who were saved at Calvary Chapel Truckee.
One man came to the church after fleeing the mafia and moving to Truckee, where his father lived. “He got radically born again, became on fire for the Lord, got grounded in the Word, and was with us for a few years. It was a wonderful salvation story,” Brian related.
In the early days of the church, a young woman named Pam attended a mid-week study. “She looked like death warmed over, pale and droopy. She had a lifeless expression on her face as she listened,” Brian noted. At the end of the study, she asked to speak to Brian the next day, when she unfolded her story. “She was involved in the occult like you can’t believe and had experienced all kinds of demonic activity.” Pam asked Brian if there was any help for her. “I just shared about Jesus and asked if she wanted Him to save and cleanse her. All she could do was sort of nod, so I took her hands and led her in a simple ‘sinner’s prayer.’ When she looked up after the prayer, she was a different person. She had this huge grin and her face glowed, and there was life in her eyes.” Pam continued to walk with the Lord, enthusiastically attending every service.
Brian greets long-time friend and co-laborer Beverly Blades. Beverly served as children’s ministry director at Calvary Chapel Truckee for many years before traveling the world for decades as a Child Evangelism Fellowship missionary.
A United Airline pilot, Dave Cronin, was saved at Calvary Chapel Truckee two months before he became a national hero in 1989 during a flight from Honolulu, HI, to New Zealand. A forward cargo door blew out of his aircraft, leaving a gaping hole in the side; two rows of seats were ripped out and two out of four engines were rendered inoperable. Still, he was able to turn the plane around and return safely to Honolulu. In a news report, Dave acknowledged that he could not have made it without prayer and God’s help. He remained at the church until his death in 2010 from a heart attack. “When paramedics came in, he said, ‘I’m OK now. Everything’s all right,’ and he went to be with the Lord,” Brian relayed.
In more recent years, a woman brought her 78-year-old father, Ronnie, to a Wednesday night study. Brian recounted, “I told Ronnie, ‘I want you to know that Jesus loves you.’ That pierced his heart. It was like a light went on in his heart and he fell in love with Jesus Christ; he grew in the Lord and came faithfully to church. He’d often tell me, ‘Jesus loves me, and that’s all that matters.’”
Pastor Brian Larson comforts a woman in a time of need following his farewell service at CC Truckee.
Apart from these stories, Brian remembers the church as “a place where the Bible is taught in its simplicity and its purity, where people gather together in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
John Cowan, who served as the interim senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Truckee after Brian retired, has known Brian for more than 20 years as a fellow pastor, often collaborating in ministry. He described Brian as a “faithful servant of the Lord. I think of Caleb in the Book of Joshua, who said at 80 years old that he was [still] ready to conquer the land [of Canaan]. Brian’s got health issues, but his faithful consistency to teach and preach the Word systematically and to love folks is what he’s done from beginning to end.”
Brian expressed his appreciation for his Calvary Chapel Truckee congregation—”Just their hearts for the Lord. They’re a sweet flock of people,” he stressed. “My attitude has always been that I want whoever God wants in this church, and just to love them ‘as is.’ And that love has been returned many times over, in multiple ways.”
Pastor Brian comforts Lynette Cardinale, whose husband Tom had very recently died. The Cardinales attended Calvary Chapel Truckee for many years.
Even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you. Isaiah 46:4
As Brian contemplates the future, he praised the role Joyce has played in his ministry. “I’ve been so blessed to have this woman contentedly, willingly, and joyfully come along with whatever the Lord has brought all these years,” Brian enthused. “Joyce was first and foremost in her heart and life my wife and mother of our children. But she was very active in support of all the ministries of our church, including faithful service in our nursery for 25 years. The ladies of the church felt like she was such an example of a godly woman and mother. I think she shined a lot more than she gives herself credit for as a servant in our church.”
Joyce added, “I was able to just love our people. But sometimes I put pressure on myself, like I should be doing more. I feel blessed that God provided women to head up ministry and that I had the freedom to enjoy it.”
They are excited about the future. Brian, with Rhea’s help, is now upgrading his True to His Word non-profit ministry, a website collecting his teachings through the Bible (TrueToHisWord.com). “People still want to follow Brian and want his ministry to continue. So he’s keeping a hand in it,” Rhea remarked. That includes new devotional video blogs and opportunities to discuss how world events relate to Christians. “Brian is a gifted teacher, as funny as he can be, and has a total passion for the Word that comes across and changes lives. It changed my life,” Rhea declared.
Brian joked that he’s a “West-Coast” boy wondering how God will use him in Connecticut. He affirmed, “I want to come with an absolutely open heart. Lord, how do You want to use me at this time in my life, in this place, for Your glory? I want to be open to the leading of the Spirit. I love Jesus, I love His Word, and I just want to be His servant, however that plays out.”
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.
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