As you all know by now, one of Youth Ministries most beloved long-time volunteers, leaders, and all-around giants, Chris Vardy Sr. tragically lost his life in an accident on February 11th. Chris was not only an incredible husband and father to his wife, Tami, and two boys, Christopher and Brendan, but like a father to the dozen children in his “framily” (friend-family) as well as hundreds of teenagers through his service to Youth Ministries for over a decade.
We took some time this past Sunday on zoom to huddle up as a youth ministries family and share stories and memories of Chris. I watched as youth past and present, youth parents past and present, and youth pastors past and present, joined by little squares on that call. There were smiles at getting to see each other’s faces, and sadness at the loss that gathered us, and relief at not feeling quite so alone.
One by one, adults and college kids and teenagers and former youth staffers shared stories of incredible love, generosity, hospitality, and care offered by Chris to all of them. There were funny stories (accompanied by screen shares of embarrassing pictures), and sad ones, and sweet ones, and there was laughter and crying, often all at once, for well over an hour.
One of our now-college students was reflecting on his experience of having Chris Vardy as a small group leader in middle school, and how he, as a middle schooler, had never really cared much about the small group content and how he was always just trying to get Chris to blow through it so they could play basketball in the gym. Just as I was about to add a snarky comment about how this student seemed to have basically the same approach all through high school as well, the student continued, and shared that,
“Chris always looked at us like we were his friends. I knew he cared about us. I’m sure we were annoying, but Chris never treated us like just a group of kids, he treated us like his friends. Like he really wanted to spend time with us.”
Chris wasn’t just a youth dad, Chris was the youth dad. He was the dad on every trip and Sunday night event for years at a time, when it was so often hard to find dads willing to come, Chris would always volunteer, and I mean actually volunteer, like say that he wanted to go before I called and asked five times. But more than that, he was like a dad to hundreds of teenagers that came through the Justin building. He wore silly costumes and led games and threw dodgeballs and cracked jokes and served dinners and took such good care of his people.
And we were all his people. His big, warm laugh, bright smile, genuine joy made everyone feel loved, important, special, wanted. Exactly the way you would want a dad to make you feel.
If I can speak for myself for a moment, I cried a lot on that phone call and in the moments after. Chris was a loving, kind, man who deeply invested in teenagers, in their families, and in us as youth pastors. He was a man who I sat at the hospital bedside of, a man who I ran mission trips with, who came to my graduation party, who invited us to his house. He was a man who gave me the biggest hug when I lost my own dad. Teenagers are desperately sad this week. Adults are deeply sad. And I am deeply sad.
We grieve for the Vardy family, who should have had more time with their father, for the Bonds, Toulouses, and Magrytas, and all his closest friends. We grieve alongside all the teenagers who loved Chris so much, and the parents who felt so cared for and welcomed by him. We grieve for our community that is feeling the loss of one of its great giants, and most beloved dads, Chris.
The Celebration of Chris’s life will be on February 27th at 11:00 am, both livestreamed at fumcfw.org/live and in-person, registration required. You can also make a gift in memory of Chris Vardy here, which will go to fund scholarships for more teenagers to attend mission trips and Camp Barnabas in the years to come.
Director of Youth Ministries