Treacher Collins Syndrome Couldn’t Keep Him From Preaching Pastor Celebrates 10 Years at North Hill Christian Church
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News Story by Cindy Hval
Ten years ago, the Rev. Chris Snow stood at the pulpit of North Hill Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and delivered his first sermon to the congregation.
He’d already been interviewed by phone, and he and his wife, Jennifer, had flown in once from their home in Oregon, but on his second visit, he was asked to speak.
“As I was preaching, I had the overwhelming feeling that this is where I’m supposed to be,” he recalled.
The congregation agreed, and Snow was invited to lead the 100-plus-year-old church.
When he first arrived, he said the status of the church was tenuous.
“I didn’t picture myself here for 10 years — no one did,” said Snow, 39. “The congregation didn’t even know if they’d be here for five years. They’d been through a constant turnover in pastors. They needed a calming, steady presence.”
That was something he knew he could provide.
A Disability Elevates His Ministry
He is a second-generation Christian minister, raised in Missouri. His leadership skills became evident in high school when he was tapped to lead student retreats. That’s when he realized his calling.
“I was someone with a disability being asked to lead these retreats,” he said. “I thought instead of being in conflict with the ministry, my disability could elevate it.”
Snow was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare genetic condition affecting cranofacial structure — especially the cheekbones, jaws, ears and eyelids. These differences can cause problems with breathing, swallowing, eating, hearing and speech.
“I was born completely deaf,” said Snow. “I had surgery that provided hearing in my right ear but none in my left. I grew up learning sign language and lip-reading. I had years of speech therapy.”
Though his intellect was unaffected by the disease, his speech impairment often led others to assume he had learning disabilities. By 9th grade, he’d had enough.
“I wore a hearing aid until 9th grade when I got frustrated with the school district’s IEP (individualized education program) and stopped wearing it,” he said. “I signed away my IEP.”
He changed school districts and discovered two new passions — running and drumming.
“I started cross-country and put on some muscle weight,” said Snow. “I was 6 ft. tall by then, and my posture shut down any assumptions.”
Band offered another satisfying social outlet.
“I connected to percussion because I could feel the vibration.”
Trajectory After High School
Following graduation, Snow attended Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri, for his undergraduate work and received his Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis.
Once again, he was selected for leadership positions in his fraternity, Lambda Chi, and at Camp MoVal, a UCC church camp, where he worked summers.
“That’s when I really embraced my love of camping,” he said.
After seminary, he served three years at First Christian Church in Salem, Oregon. That’s where he met his wife, and they married in August 2012.
When he arrived in Spokane, he was impressed with the ministries of North Hill. The church is a Meals on Wheels distribution site and has a long tradition of providing food boxes for those in need every Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“They are big boxes,” said Snow. “Enough for leftovers for a full week.”
Attitude Adjustment, an addiction recovery program, meets at the church twice daily, seven days a week.
Newer outreach ministries include sharing space with First Ukrainian Baptist Church on Tuesday evenings and Sunday afternoons and a citizenship class offered in partnership with World Relief.
“It’s encouraging to see how much this congregation gives back,” he said.
COVID and Pastor Burnout
Like many churches, North Hill keenly felt the effects of COVID, but Snow said the pandemic allowed them to embrace technology. Currently, the church has 65-70 members and in-person attendance averages about 25 each week.
“COVID caused us to change things for the better in many ways. Now, we can make our services more accessible throughout the week for those who can’t be here on Sunday mornings,” he said.
His congregation also recognized the stress their pastor was under.
Five years ago, Jennifer gave birth to their daughter, Ruth. Like her dad, Ruth has Treacher Collins, but her case is more severe. She requires in-home medical care.
“Post-COVID, the congregation recognized the rate at which clergy was burning out and told me they wanted me to find something that was life-giving to me and that they would pay for it,” he said.
Snow found pottery and joined the Spokane Potter’s Guild.
“I enjoy working with my hands,” he said. “I spend time at least once a week in the studio.”
Why Inclusiveness Is Important Part of His Ministry
In his office, surrounded by his pottery and percussion instruments, he reflected on his passion for inclusivity in the church.
“I have such empathy for the LGBTQIA community,” he said. “I am an open and affirming pastor with a disability who, by all rights, shouldn’t be in ministry. How often do we think of preachers with eloquent speaking voices? If I can serve, who am I to say that they can’t? God instilled gifts in all of us. Who am I to say they can’t use them?”
Each Disciples of Christ congregation can decide whether or not to be an open and affirming congregation.
“Members of the LGBTQIA community can be ordained in the Disciples of Christ church,” he said. “We’re (North Hill) in the discernment process of who God is calling us to be in the here and now.”
He envisions good things ahead.
“I’m hopeful for what is possible in removing barriers so people can serve,” Snow said. “Growing up, people said, oh, you can’t do this or that, but here I am doing what I’m called to do.”
Cindy Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation,” and has been a columnist and correspondent for The Spokesman-Review newspaper since 2006. In addition, her stories have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies including 12 volumes of the “Chicken Soup For the Soul” series. Cindy is the mother of four sons, Nana of twin grandsons and is owned by two cats, also boys. She and her husband, Derek, recently celebrated their 37th anniversary. Her idea of heaven is a room full of books and all the time in the world to read them.