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Applegate Fellowship pastor takes new post

RUCH ' The Rev. Jon Courson, the evangelical pastor who built the Applegate Christian Fellowship into the biggest church in Southern Oregon, will leave his post to become a pastor with the 25,000-member Calvary Church in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Courson's surprise move was announced at evening services Wednesday, along with the naming of his son, Peter John Courson, 25, as pastor of the Applegate ministry. The younger Courson has been an assistant pastor there for almost two years.

The elder Courson, 49, will work as right-hand pastor to his longtime mentor, the Rev. Chuck Smith, leader of the huge Southern California congregation with satellite television and radio broadcasts reaching all over the world, said Peter Courson.

The elder Courson will deliver sermons at the church as well as via CSN ' the Calvary Satellite Network. Local followers can hear him daily at 7:30 a.m., noon and 10:30 p.m. on KAPL AM-1300 radio.

The Costa Mesa church is the mother church of several thousand smaller Calvary Chapels, including Applegate Fellowship, all over North America, he said.

Smith has mentored Jon Courson since the latter was a divinity student at Biola University in Twin Pines, Calif., his son said.

Jon Courson was called to the Applegate in 1977 by a handful of hippies who were recent converts to Christianity and wanted someone to teach them and grow in the ways of God, said Peter Courson.

Jon Courson, then 23, was pastor of a church he'd started in San Jose. Starting from scratch, he built the Applegate Christian Fellowship into a sizable following of 5,000 to 7,000 attendees each week, the largest in Southern Oregon, Peter Courson said.

It was the simple love of God's word that caused it, said Peter Courson, not any attempt to promote himself. He's always had a vision of his church like Pastor Chuck's (Smith) vision ' of being able to share Jesus simply and effectively with the world in that master ministry (the Calvary network) that doesn't come with the hoopla of some larger churches.

Jon Courson was in Costa Mesa and could not be reached for comment. His son was chosen to replace him without any question by the 150-man assembly of deacons and elders, said Bob Thornley, 46, one of Applegate's pastors.

It's something God ordained and some great stuff is going to come from it, said Thornley, referring to both new posts. The young Courson has already gained acceptance from the Applegate congregation, he added, because, like his father, He shares the same heart, has always pointed people to Jesus and has been faithful to his teachings through the whole word.

The congregation was both sad and happy about Jon Courson's leaving, said his son, because it's time to share him with the whole church and the whole body of Christ. The younger Courson had been delivering every third Sunday sermon, as well as Thursday evenings, and now will serve as chief pastor Sundays and Wednesdays.

John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org