From Vail ski bum to mountain pastor
Vail, CO Colorado
EDWARDS, Colorado – People who attend Tommy Schneider’s church can tell when he’s not there.
The energetic, ever-smiling senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Vail Valley in Edwards, when not speaking on the stage, can be found buzzing around the room, chatting with people about their weekends, or maybe singing along with the band at the top of his lungs with a grin on his face.
For Schneider, there’s no other job he’d rather have. His work as a pastor allows him to make a difference in people’s lives, he said.
“I get to love people, and I get to share what I think is the most life-changing message of love on the planet,” he said. “I don’t know how it can get better.”
His work, besides preaching sermons on Sundays, includes managing the staff at the church, counseling families, couples and individuals, working as a police and hospital chaplain, and sometimes traveling to speak at different conferences and churches.
As a pastor, Schneider has also been to more births, weddings and funerals than the average person.
“For me, I get this incredible sense of honor and blessing to be part of someone’s most critical days of their lives – when they say ‘I do,’ when babies are coming into the world and when they’re saying goodbye,” he said.
Schneider first came to Vail in 1986 as a ski bum, living in a van in a parking lot. Little did he know that years later, he would be returning for a very different reason – to start a church. In the years in between, Schneider had returned to his hometown, Santa Barbara, Calif., become engaged to his wife, Debbie, and was ready to start a business. Someone had invited him to a church, Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara, and he attended skeptically.
“I felt like religion was for people who were frightened and had no purpose,” he said. “It was the furthest thing from what I thought I would do. However, I also felt like there was a longing in my heart and soul that was different from what the world was providing.”
Something rang true in what he heard, and he decided to go again when someone invited him to a “men’s prayer breakfast.”
“I went, thinking it was going to be weird,” he said. “During the prayer, I thought they were going pray for cars, money and houses, but instead they prayed for the lost and the broken, and for families to be restored. They prayed about one woman they had heard about who was addicted to drugs and about to be homeless, and for her son. Then I realized they were praying for me and my mom, and they didn’t even know. I just started weeping on my shoes, and realized that I was in need of a God who loved me that way.”
He began working at the church, became a pastor, and finally decided with his wife that they wanted to return to Vail in order to start a church. During those early days of the church, nearly 13 years ago, he said the members met in their house, and he worked a variety of odd jobs to make ends meet. The church has since grown from a handful of people to nearly 500 attendees. Schneider now calls the valley home and has two children, ages 10 and 15, who are just as involved in the church. But he still remembers those moments back in California where he found his calling.
“I just remember the freedom I felt knowing there was a God who would meet me right where I was at. I didn’t have to get cleaned up first,” he said. “I got forgiveness, freedom and felt brand new – and that’s what I share with people.”