COLUMBIA — Rick Frost could become anyone's best friend in five minutes.
Maybe it's because his childhood was spent on an island, and he grew up with a tight community of 500 people. Maybe it's because at 66, he can correctly use the term "cranked," slang for "excited," well enough to relate to any teenager. Or maybe it's the way he can crack a joke, like when Broadway Christian Church, where he has been serving as senior pastor for more than 20 years, threw him a huge farewell party and he walked up on the stage, grinned and asked, "What are we doing next week?"
Frost has connected with thousands of people throughout his life, and not just from behind the pulpit.
"He's an everyday kind of guy," church member Beverly Kyriakos said. She has played the organ for Broadway Christian for 25 years, since before the days of Rick Frost as pastor.
Kyriakos recognizes that Frost has always been more than just a presence on Sunday mornings. "Some guys are just good preachers," she said. "But Rick, I can call him up with anything, any time, day or night. I adore him."
It's that presence that Frost has that can have a real effect on people. Kyriakos has served the church for decades with her music, but Frost's character inspired her to try other things as well. In March 2007, she and her husband Charles traveled to New Orleans to help clean up the city.
"It was something I never imagined myself doing," she said.
Imagination is not something that Frost lacks, either. When he moved to Columbia in 1986 and became the senior minister at Broadway Christian Church, he was excited about the congregation's drive to reach out to its community.
"They were a group of people that wanted what I wanted," he said.
Frost said he has long believed in pushing limits and moving toward a goal, like reaching those he calls the "unchurched."
But there was something more that he wanted, and that came to light throughout the years of growth that Broadway Church has seen. Frost desired a sense of family inside the congregation. And he holds the philosophy that people want to grow spiritually — they want to serve each other as a community. They just need the opportunity.
"You can't be a community with 500 people," he said. "But you can with 14."
So he gave the membership the opportunity to find community through fostering small group ministries. Thirteen years ago, he and Associate Minister Kim Ryan first discussed the idea, and now more than 300 individuals participate in small groups. Frost, along with his wife, Jan, has participated in a small group with the same individuals for the past 11 years.
Those same 12 to 14 people have met each week on Wednesdays to share life together. The group is diverse in its makeup and includes a doctor, a computer programmer and a former associate dean of the business school at MU, to name a few.
Recently, he decided to ask the group why it had committed to meeting over the years, why it had kept the time sacred.
"They told me, 'It's where we come to get refreshed,'" he said.
Frost's personality has been a refreshing influence on many others, including MU junior Jeff Huhman.
While in high school, Huhman approached Frost, his minister, about wanting to meet with him. Frost said yes; after all, he had been mentored by his own pastor years ago.
He and Huhman began meeting together about every other week. Sometimes they would get a bite to eat, but most often the meeting was in Frost's office, where Huhman said the pastor would put down whatever he was working on to talk.
They talked about Huhman's struggle over attending a campus ministry versus his home church, and "experiences in high school that every young guy goes through."
And Frost has seen nearly the whole range of what his congregation goes through.
"I've watched members get married, have children. I've married their children and buried their parents," he said. "There's nothing quite like being a pastor."
For Frost, it's a job based on relationships, both with God and with others. The relationships he had early on in his life have made him who he is today.
Frost grew up on Anna Maria Island, off the west coast of Florida, which he said created a very relaxing environment for him to interact with people.
"We were the island kids," he said, thinking back on his childhood. "Five hundred people and a sandbar."
And surrounding that sandbar was the water that he came to love, the water that he and the other island kids drove boats across before they could drive cars.
The dock right behind his house, where Frost tied his boat, also meant he was always just moments away from fishing. That became a hobby that he is still very passionate about. He travels almost two hours to fish at Bennett Springs nearly every week.
Another passion took hold of him on Anna Maria Island — a passion for God. He was first drawn to a church because of the young and athletic pastor, Richard Wiggins. Frost was 16 when he said he felt God call him to ministry. It was during a worship service, in the evening, on the beach, as the sunset played across the sand. Frost chose full-time Christian ministry and never looked back.
Even as a child, Frost had unusual interests that foreshadowed the direction his life would take. One was reading biblical commentary.
"I was fascinated at the amount of thought, wisdom and energy people put into understanding the Bible," he said.
That fascination made religion classes at college look like a natural next step. Instead, Frost went to Florida State University for a degree in liberal arts.
His minister had advised going to college for a liberal arts degree, saying Frost would get enough religion courses at a divinity school afterward. Wiggins also placed value in getting a broad base of understanding, something Frost says he has benefited from.
"It's the best advice I ever got," Rick said. "I learned to relate to all different kinds of people."
That lesson continued to serve him throughout his life, everywhere he went. Each of the four places he has lived are college towns: Fort Worth, Texas, where he studied at Brite Divinity School; Austin, Texas, where he took his first job as pastor; Boulder, Colo., where he served as pastor; and then in Columbia.
Because of his and Jan's love for Colorado, leaving the church in Boulder 22 years ago was one of the most difficult things they've done. Rick reminisced about what he called "that place," where the couple's love for backpacking, mountain hiking and nature really developed. Yet because the church community itself wasn't developing, they decided to start new relationships in Columbia.
Broadway Christian has not been the same since. The church has seen a lot of changes, including the small groups ministry, in the 22 years that Frost has served as pastor. He attributes that to the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God that Christians believe lives and moves in those that seek after God. Church members also call it the "Broadway Spirit" as they strive to live out their faith as the distinct community of Broadway.
Frost's commitment to the community affected not only how he worked as a pastor, but also how he stopped working. He recognized that saying goodbye is a process, and said, "If it doesn't hurt, it's not love." Because of his love for the members, Frost let them know in April 2007 that he was retiring.
"It was the smoothest retirement I've ever seen," said Debbie Graham, a church staff member of five years. With the time that Frost's early announcement gave them, the church has been able to select an interim minister, Larry Gallamore.
"I did what I know how to do and I think I did it well," Frost said of his years at the church. "But I don't have the skill set to prepare them for the next step."
For Frost, that step means growing in size. He wants the church to grow spiritually, he said, and also numerically.
"If numbers don't go up, what are you doing? You're not reaching out."
He can say with almost pinpoint accuracy what each Sunday's worship attendance will be: "436... give or take a few."
To him, it's time for someone with new energy to lead. Part of the reason Frost chose to retire is that he thinks another pastor can do with 600 to 800 members what he did with 400.
"I've had a great run," he said, and laughed. "And this good church can be great."
The church said goodbye to the Frosts at the farewell luncheon in early September. Visible reminders of their next adventures loomed: 6-foot cutouts of Indiana Jones characters. Frost's face was transposed over the actor Harrison Ford's, and Jan's over that of the lucky lady on his arm.
True to the sense of family that the church became, they couldn't send off some of their own without a few gifts. A new pop-up camper and memberships to every National Park in the country will get the Frosts off to a good start on their adventures. At some point the two will head to the Sonoma Valley Culinary School in California, thanks to the members of Broadway Christian.
But they're not out of town just yet. Jan Frost continues to love her job as an early childhood specialist at MU, and Rick Frost had one more appearance to make. Though officially retired, special arrangements were made for him to officiate one more wedding — that of Mindy Evans, a woman who attended Broadway Christian as a child. She came back from Texas to be at her home church so that Frost could perform the ceremony last weekend.
The relationship with Evans is just one relationship that Frost continued to foster over the years, and he knows there will be plenty of others. The way he sees it, Broadway Christian serves 1,000 members, which means out of Columbia's population, he should know about one person in every 100 people.
"Wherever I go — Gerbes, Hy-Vee, out to see a show — I run into someone," he said.
In the hour-long interview at Boone Tavern, four people came up and just wanted to talk to him. And judging by the way he laughed or shook their hands with bear-like intensity, one thing was evident: He'll always be the same Rick Frost.
That's something he doesn't need a pulpit for.