Lee Padilla’s family has a long tradition of ministerial service, so it’s only natural that he, too, works as a preacher.
His father was a minister, he has brothers and nephews who went into the ministry, and his own son has begun training for the service
“I was raised in the church,” he said. “I was a preacher’s son.”
Padilla, originally from Texas, brought his family to the area a few months ago to accept a new position as the minister at Tooele’s Church of Christ, which meets in a small chapel on Utah Avenue.
Though he has traveled throughout the U.S. for his work—taking positions in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma and California—Padilla said Tooele is one of the most beautiful communities he has come across.
“We’ve enjoyed it, the scenery with the mountains right there,” he said. “I think out of all places, I rank it at the top.”
Padilla has a two-year diploma from the Southwest School of Bible Studies in Austin, and nearly 20 years of ministerial experience on top of that. But he has his work cut out for him in Tooele. The congregation here is small, with about 30 active members, and most of the congregants are recent converts who still know little about the church and its teachings.
“This congregation is a congregation that has struggled just to get here,” he said.
Most of the members are older individuals who come to the church looking for answers, Padilla said. Some are concerned about their adult children and the challenges they face. Others have drifted from one denomination to another, looking for a church that teaches what they see in the Bible.
“What I’ve found—they walk in because they’ve read the Bible, and they don’t see anything done that was seen in the Bible,” he said. “I’ve tried to stay true to that.”
Padilla’s own ministerial philosophy is derived straight from the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus Christ, who he regards as the head of his church, he said. He doesn’t like to bring in outside material, and prefers to focus on the scriptural text. He leads simple services, and the congregation sings hymns without instrumentation, even though Padilla, who plays the guitar, could provide instrumentation easily.
It’s refreshing, he said, that in Tooele, his minimalist approach to worship services has brought in new members. In the past month, he’s had four visitors begin to attend services regularly.
“You go down into Texas, and the attitude is different,” he said. “Church is entertainment.”
Padilla has initiated a number of outreach programs in response to some of the problems he sees affecting the Tooele community. Because so many of his congregants are new to the Church of Christ, Padilla holds morning Bible study groups, and spends time during the day traveling to congregant’s homes for one-on-one Bible study.
He has also offered to conduct weddings and funerals free of charge to anyone in the community. The large number of young couples who choose to cohabitate without getting married concerns Padilla. He said that if the cost of a wedding is a barrier, he will do what he can to clear the path—even paying for the marriage license if need be.
Padilla, who is bilingual, also has plans to offer free English lessons to the local Hispanic community, and hopes to start a summer Bible study program for area youth.
With some luck and increased outreach effort, Padilla said he believes he could bring the Tooele Church of Christ congregation up to 50 active members by the end of the year. It will be a challenge, but he said that same desire to bring his neighbors to Christ is part of what drew him to a ministerial career.
“I think we all have it in our hearts—we all want to get to heaven,” he said. “But then as you get thinking about it, you want your wife to go to heaven, and your kids to go to heaven, and your neighbors.”