Senior Minister at Middletown Christian Church Seeks to Unify
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Though Brian Gerard has been a minister for nearly 25 years, he feels he made one of his greatest outreach impacts in 2011 when he participated in a Swedish reality TV show called “Allt för Sverige.” He found out about the show through pure coincidence. One day he was scrolling on Facebook when he saw a nationwide casting call, asking those with a Swedish ancestry to apply. Gerard’s great-grandparents had immigrated from Sweden in the late 1800s, and that’s about the extent of what he knew about his heritage. He was eager to learn more.
“The show is basically ‘Amazing Race’ meets genealogy,” says Gerard, senior minister at Middletown Christian Church.
Only five males and five females were selected for the inaugural season of the show. The audition process was lengthy. Gerard had to do both a paper and video interview before flying to New York for a screen test.
“I thought, ‘There’s no way this is going to happen,’” recalls Gerard, who adds with a chuckle, “I might have improved my chances of being chosen by bringing the producers some bourbon and an invitation to Churchill Downs.”
Gerard, 39 at the time, traveled to Sweden and was there for 35 days, competing for the grand prize, which was of sentimental rather than monetary value as the winner got to meet their Swedish relatives. Each episode featured a different team competition. If a team lost, its members each had to do an individual competition. During one episode, Gerard visited the church where his great-grandfather experienced his call to ministry. Gerard learned that his great-grandfather came to America in the early 1900s and preached racial reconciliation. Add the fact that Gerard’s oldest son is an adopted person of color, and it was overwhelming in the best of ways to discover his heritage.
“To learn about my own sense of what ministry looks like in terms of equity, injustice and inclusion made for a powerful narrative,” Gerard says.
Though Sweden is a predominantly nonreligious country, the show’s message resonated with viewers around the country.
“I had more people send me notes about faith and Christianity by doing that show than I ever had before,” Gerard says. “It was really amazing, the kind of witness it provided, and it wasn’t an evangelistic witness. It was simply the fact that I was a pastor from Kentucky, and I think there was something character-driven about that for a reality show.”
Gerard won the competition and got to meet his relatives.
In his youth, Gerard didn’t anticipate pursuing a career as a minister. When he was fresh out of high school, he enrolled at West Point Military Academy. It didn’t take long, however, for him to realize that military life wasn’t for him. He ended up at Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma. Before closing, the school was connected to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) where he enrolled in a religion course.
“I fell in love with the academic study of religion and served as a youth pastor in Enid for two and a half years,” says Gerard, who later went to Yale as he had his eyes set on pursuing an academic career.
He served a chaplain residency at Yale New Haven Hospital before turning to congregational ministry. In February of 2021, Gerard joined Middletown Christian Church as senior minister.
His wife Carrie, also ordained, is the executive director of Eastern Area Community Ministries in Louisville. The couple have two children, Ethan, 21, and Graham, 16. They adopted Ethan, who is multiracial, when he was an infant.
The family lives in North Oldham. Their neighborhood is on the river, which means they get to kayak and fish whenever they want. Having lived in the Louisville area for nearly 20 years, they adore the city, local parks and historic midtown area.
“This is a really interesting part of Louisville because of its population density,” Gerard says. “There’s so much going on here. If you can’t find something you like to eat in Middletown, you’re not even trying.”
Middletown Christian Church is a community of faith that seeks to be fully welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community, as well as people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. They also bridge the theological and political spectrum. There was a stretch of four weeks in a row when Gerard had people approach him after services to tell him how moved they were by the church’s inclusive message.
“With tears in their eyes, these people said, ‘I’ve always been told that I couldn’t be loved because of who I am, but I’m so welcomed here that I actually feel the love of God,’” Gerard says. “When you’re finding your way in a church and something like that happens, it feels like a confirmation of call. In those moments, it’s like, ‘Yes, I’m in the right place.’”
“I can’t think of a time when ministry has been more overwhelming than it has been in the last 18 months,” Gerard adds. “I’ve never put in so many hours. I’ve never worn so many hats. It’s not like pastors had it especially difficult. Everyone did. It’s everybody’s first pandemic so no one knows exactly what to do.”
As such, Gerard feels that it’s a minister’s role to be a reflective presence in the life of others.
“People don’t just come to us for the answers,” he says. “They come to us for the opportunity to reflect upon the journey. That, over the last year, has been an essential part of the church.”
Nevertheless, he has found that having the opportunity to walk with people through this time has been one of the most meaningful aspects of ministry.
“That’s sacred ground,” he says. “It’s life-giving when you walk in community with people during a year like this. It reminds you of how important community is. The hope is that we will continue to remain not only a comforting presence, but also a healing and reconciling presence for the world beyond our doors. We’re still in a period of very deep division in our country. Tensions are high in so many areas of life. If people in the church can’t learn to live with one another with respect and dignity in spite of our differences, then how can we expect the world beyond our doors to get it right?”
Gerard maintains that it is up to Christians to be out in the community modeling grace, truth, reason and reconciliation.
“Those things are going to continue to be increasingly important in the world if the church is going to stay relevant,” he says.
Middletown Christian Church is located at 500 North Watterson Trail in Louisville. For more information, call 502-245-9793 or visit middletownchristian.org.