As excited as Chris Nord was about becoming a licensed local pastor, he had dreams of finishing seminary to achieve his goal of becoming an elder in The United Methodist Church.
“As a local pastor, he got very emotional and tearful about ‘I really want to be an elder. I have always wanted to go and learn more, and that’s really my goal,’” said Shari Combs Nord, whom he married on Dec. 10.
Chris Nord died Feb. 16 in Topeka, leaving his newlywed bride, his young daughters, his former congregation at Topeka Susanna Wesley UMC and his current church at Rossville UMC in mourning for his passing and celebration for what he had accomplished in his 47 years.
“He was deeply passionate in his love of the Lord and his love of all of God’s people, and his desire for all people to come to know the forgiving, loving mercy of God,” said the Rev. Maria Campbell, senior pastor while Nord served at Susanna Wesley and currently the pastor of Overland Park Heritage UMC.
“He was beloved by the congregation and felt like he was doing what he was called to do,” said the Rev. Jenny Collins, Topeka District superintendent, who selected Nord to serve in Rossville in 2021. “Everyone was excited to see where he was going to go.”
Christopher James Nord grew up in Mulvane UMC, and his widow said his love of God began with his parents, Carl and Ruth, who were both active in the church and at the conference level.
“It started with his dad,” she said of Carl Nord, who served as chair of the conference Council on Finance and Administration for several years. “He had that very strong background of church in his family, and it was a very central part of his life.”
He received encouragement from the Rev. Barry Dundas, an associate pastor and youth minister at the time in Mulvane, who saw a calling in him.
“He was the first to say, ‘It’s about time,’” Shari Nord said of Dundas, now pastor of Manhattan First UMC, about her husband’s decision to become a pastor.
After a three-year stint in the U.S. Army, where Chris was named soldier of the year while at Fort Hood, Texas, he entered Kansas State University and, according to his obituary, “received a bunch of degrees” — bachelor’s in political science, history and prelaw.
He later graduated from the Washburn University School of Law, receiving his doctorate of jurisprudence.
Nord tried to find a law firm in the area to join, Shari said, but couldn’t find openings in Topeka.
“He struggled,” she recalled him telling her. “He (said) ‘This isn’t me, this isn’t what I’m meant to do.’”
While his vocational career was uncertain, Chris found solace and enjoyment at Susanna Wesley, first as a volunteer and then as a staff member from 2015 to 2021. In the space of six years at the church, he was youth coordinator, congregational care director, adult faith formation director, Topeka District youth coordinator and Topeka District lay leader.
“It was obvious to me as he served as liturgist and other roles in the church that he definitely had a call to ministry,” said Campbell, who hired him as youth director and gave him opportunities to preach. “It truly was a growing self-revelation as God was speaking most clearly into his heart and mind with what God was wanting him to do.
“The very first time he gave a sermon, it clearly indicated that God had a plan for him to speak on behalf of the kingdom,” she added. “It was a joy to watch him continue to hone that craft and get more committed.”
Nord loved leading Bible studies and was very well-received, Campbell said.
“He loved exegetical (deep study) work, and he loved doing the word studies and going back to the Greek and digging into it. It invigorated him to do serious Bible study,” she said. “We all were naming his call for him.”
Nick Marsh, a former congregational care pastor at Susanna Wesley, said Nord had a way of connecting with the youth.
“The kids really enjoyed him,” said Marsh, now pastor at Horton-Netawaka-Whiting-Powhattan. “He was serious about his relationship with Christ. He wanted the best for everybody. He wanted the youth to do well. He spent a lot of time with them. He loved his church, and he loved the people there.”
Marsh said he was amazed at Nord’s change in vocations.
“The fellow had a law degree, for crying out loud, and he elected to go with the church,” he said. “He was a decent man and faithful.”
The Rev. Andrew Conard, who succeeded Campbell at Susanna Wesley in 2021, said Nord was a people person.
“He had a great way, a casual way to connect with people — adaptable in any situation and comfortable in front of students,” Conard said. “Chris cared for people. He was really relational, he had a great sense of humor.”
Shari Nord met her husband while both were youth leaders. She worked for Susanna Wesley for 25 years, the last six as church administrator.
“They just connected to him,” she said. “He was involved as a youth in his teens in YF (youth fellowship), and his dad was always a big, strong person in his life and in his faith, and he was happy he had that influence at a young age to encourage young kids to do so.”
The co-workers’ friendship turned romantic about three years ago, she said.
“We were finally together as a couple more than friends, and he began to talk about (ministry) was what he always wanted to do,” Shari said.
Both were divorced, him with two daughters and her with two adult sons.
“We could talk so much about our faith together, and we didn’t have that in our previous marriages. We realized that connection and an unbelievable friendship,” Shari said. “We both loved music and church, and we realized we had so many of these common factors together.
“He became my partner in life and my friend,” she said. “I didn’t get to be with him very long, but I felt like the time we had together was a happiness we were both able to experience.”
Nord had completed three semesters at Saint Paul School of Theology’s Leawood campus, Shari said, halfway through his studies.
“It was definitely the path he was preparing himself for,” Campbell said. “It was a great blessing for me to see it continue.”
Shari said her husband savored his time in seminary.
“He was thoroughly enjoying, for the most part, all of it. Any time there was a discussion he was so pumped and just oozing excitement about whatever they got to think about and talk about,” she said. “He didn’t hold back. He spoke what he thought. He could express his faith and hear what others had to say.
“I can’t express how much Saint Paul was good to him and gave him what he had hoped for,” she said.
His enthusiasm was also high at licensing school, said the Rev. Kathy Symes, dean of the licensing school when Nord attended.
“He didn’t see it as something that needed to be done, he just enveloped it,” said Symes, pastor at Wellsville-Clearfield. “He was excited about his call in a way that he just wanted to learn more about what it was to be a pastor. He knew from his heart he was being called by people to lead them in faith, and he wanted to know as much as he could. He was just soaking it up. He was thrilled about the sacraments and that he would be able to give the people communion, to perform baptisms. He just could not wait to do it.
“He was just filled with the spirit,” she added. “He wanted to talk about theology and wanted to talk about the people he was serving.”
Collins introduced Nord to the staff-parish relations committee at Rossville in the spring of 2021, as COVID precautions were firmly in place.
With his long hair, beard and mask, Nord immediately made an impression.
“He was really good with words and said the right thing, and he was excited,” recalled Toby McCullough, who serves in several laity roles at the church.
Once they left, one older member of the committee said, “I thought I was talking to Jesus.”
“He was a breath of fresh air,” McCullough said. “We’re a pretty conservative congregation, but here’s this guy with long hair. He got everybody in the room to be on his side.”
Collins said Nord and Rossville were a perfect fit.
“He brought an excitement for learning and ministry and a love for the people,” she said. “They connected with him well, and he connected with them well.”
McCullough said he was impressed with Nord’s sermons for both their content and their brevity — “Sermons weren’t really long. A long sermon for him was 15 minutes, and sometimes he’d be done at 10” — as well as not being tied to his notes on the lectern.
“There was always something in the message everybody felt like was just for them, something they were going through, something they’d been through, whatever. They felt like he was speaking to them individually,” he said. “He had a gift for doing that.”
Marsh was also impressed by Nord’s preaching style.
“When he preached, he liked to walk across the chancel from one side to the next. Fortunately, he had a long enough chancel to be able to do that at Rossville. … If I did this, I’d be falling down the steps or into the choir loft,” Marsh said. “He needed room to move, and he did it well. He was effective.”
McCullough, in the process of becoming a lay speaker, said he had offered to relieve Nord of preaching some Sundays, but Nord objected.
“That’s what I really love to do,” Nord told him. “He really had a love for preaching.”
McCullough said Shari quickly proved to be a perfect part of his ministry.
“We didn’t just have one person, we had two people,” he said. “She was a go-getter, and she was a part of every service. She’s a phenomenal person.”
“She is very beloved by that congregation,” Campbell said. “They both were.”
Shari Nord said her husband was pleased with all the positive response he was getting at Rossville.
“He needed that affirmation back from the congregation that, yeah, you can do this. You are good at it, we’re connecting to you, some people have renewed their faith and returned. There was just something about him that people were drawn to,” she said. “That sense of accomplishment gave him more of an incentive to follow through.”
She said her husband would use himself as an example in his sermons and not necessarily positively.
“He strayed from that for a time, and he had a lot of early life experience that modeled who he was and gave him some insight into other types of lives and experiences that people could hear in his message,” she said.
“He was non-traditional and for some there wasn’t a comfort level with that, but with many it was, and he certainly found that home in Rossville,” she added.
Nord, McCullough said, consulted with him frequently about wanting to keep a good flow to services.
“He had a knack for production, I guess. I don’t know how else to say it,” he said. “He’s going to be missed in a lot of ways.”
McCullough took the pulpit on Feb. 19, three days after Nord’s death, with the lectionary Nord had already selected and continuing a sermon series he had begun.
“It wasn’t all about Chris, but it was definitely all about Chris,” he said of the service, where 75 people (including Nord’s wife and daughters, ages 16 and 12) attended, more than the 50-60 average. “We talked about how the one thing we talked about was his love for the Chiefs and how (the previous week) was Super Bowl Sunday, but that this was the real super Sunday.”
Shari said her husband had constantly complained about stomach pain for several weeks, and a change in medication wasn’t helping.
“Chris was hard on his body when he was a young person,” she said. “He had stomach issues for years, and had made lifestyle changes, but smoke and drank for years. That was a part of Chris that he was willing to share and say, ‘Look, I’m broken and I found peace and focus here.’ That’s what people heard could think, ‘Wow, I’m not bad, I could do this, too.’”
In the week before his death, he enjoyed the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl win on Sunday with his wife and stepsons, led a Bible study and negotiated custody agreements for his daughters with his ex-wife, Shari said.
The pain was intense on Wednesday, Feb. 15, and by 3 the next morning she had called an ambulance.
Once at the hospital he coded, with medical professionals taking 45 minutes to resuscitate him, Shari said.
He was kept on life support until the rest of his family had arrived from Mulvane and Larned, she said.
“Everyone was able to say goodbye,” she said. “It was so short, so quick.”
Campbell performed Chris and Shari’s wedding at Rossville in December.
“I put them through a very rigorous counseling,” she said. “The light in both of their eyes and their spirit really became ignited in their love.”
The couple honeymooned in Negril, Jamaica, in January, even winning a contest at a bar for the couple who knew each other the best.
She said both had talked about their future and were excited for what lie ahead.
“It feels like that saying, ‘The stars were all aligned,’” she said. “Everything felt like we were on this trajectory of life I had always hoped for.”
Chris’ benedictions were pure and simple, according to his obituary: “Love God. Love everyone else. It all comes down to that.”
“At the end of every service, there was something about love, and loving everyone. It didn’t matter what the service was about, but somehow, he tied that through at the end,” McCullough said. “It was always there.”
“If we love God, and if we love one another, everything works out,” Shari said. “He meant that from the bottom of his heart.”
Contact David Burke, content specialist, at email@example.com.