Sitting under the glow of stained glass and the uniquely vaulted ceiling, the sanctuary moved her.

Evie Stuard had come to Tabernacle Christian Church as the church was looking for a new pastor. During a tour of the church, she was particularly impressed by the historic building’s main worship space.

She sat in a pew and was overwhelmed.

“I just felt a spirit. It was right,” she said.

Stuard’s time with Tabernacle Christian Church is coming to a close. The longtime pastor announced her retirement earlier this year, and on Jan. 29, will be her last service. The congregation will celebrate her with a party following worship, taking the opportunity to thank her for her leadership over the years.

“She’s been wonderful — so kind and compassionate. She’s very easy to talk to, and very easy to know,” said Janet Hass, who has attended Tabernacle Christian Church for about 15 years. “We just love her.”

Though she has served in various roles within ministry over her career, her experience at Tabernacle Christian Church is one she will always cherish.

“The people here are so kind, and they are loving, that it breaks my heart to leave,” she said. “It’s a place where I feel the presence of Jesus.”

Before Stuard was called to heal people spiritually, she set out to mend the body. She studied nursing at Indiana University, earning both bachelor’s and graduate degrees. Her mother had been ill for the final 20 years of her life, and Stuard was inspired to help others who were struggling with illness.

Her focus narrowed on challenging fields, such as intensive care, psychiatric and burn units. Then in the 1980s, she was approached by the Daughters of Charity, a community of women who devote their lives to serving the poorest and most abandoned individuals in society.

They wanted her to start a program for people with HIV or AIDS in the Indianapolis area.

“At that time, I was teaching nursing at IU, and was trying to decide what to do with that. I loved nursing, but I kept having this sense that there was something else that was going on for me,” she said.

Stuard accepted their invitation, leaving teaching and working for the Daughters of Charity in their statewide program.

“It was wonderful, but it was sad. Back then, they didn’t know about it. We had 180 deaths in the first 18 months in the state,” she said.

Combined with her nursing work, Stuard had always been deeply involved in her church community. She and her husband, Steve, were active in their church. In 1990, their pastor and elders approached her and suggested she become a licensed minister — using her gifts of leadership and nursing at the church.

“There was a dark night of the soul, and I just couldn’t figure out which way I was to go. Then I just knew because it felt right,” she said.

Stuard attended Christian Theological Seminary in 1991 and earned a master’s degree in divinity with a minor in pastoral counseling. While in seminary, provided chaplain and nursing care to patients, families and staff in a free-standing 26-bed hospice through what is now Ascension St. Vincent.

Upon graduation, she served in a variety of different churches and roles. She was called to Tabernacle Christian Church and immediately felt at home.

Over the past eight years, Stuard has tried to be a vessel for the kindness and generosity of the Tabernacle congregation. One of the most significant develops that she’s seen take place is the church’s outreach to the hungry in the Johnson County community. Many members volunteer at food pantries and other agencies that fight food insecurity.

Her first year, one member suggested it would be great to serve a free community meal to people who need food, paid for by the congregation. Their effort became part of a larger network of churches feeding the needy.

“When they started, 10 to 15 people would come on Wednesday night,” she said. “Now, they have 80 to 100 meals that they give out every week. I can’t take any credit for that, they were the ones who thought of that.”

Hass and her husband, Kurt, were members of Tabernacle when Stuard came on as pastor. They were immediately struck by her approach to the congregation, and for the compassion that she had shown throughout her life.

“She was a breath of fresh air,” Hass said. “She always had a lot of stories to tell about her experiences being a nurse before she was a pastor. I got a lot out of her sermons when she would preach on Sundays.”

Member Karen Hardin remembers how from the first sermon Stuard gave, her empathy and love of Jesus was evident. Her late husband, Daniel Hardin, had been board moderator for the church when Stuard came in as pastor, and they spent much time with her in those first days of her tenure.

Just months into her time as pastor, Daniel Hardin was diagnosed with terminal brain tumor and died 45 days later. Karen Hardin experienced first-hand Stuard’s compassion.

“Pastor Evie supported our family and led a beautiful memorial, which continues to give me comfort. In the eight years of her ministry, she has done the same for numerous families,” she said.

Stuard has also been surprised to see how hard people in the church work to take care of their 1900 building. People donate money to handle major repairs, while members of the church give their time to do upkeep, such as fixing the roof and leaks in the ceiling.

“They’re skilled enough and devoted enough to take care of it,” she said.

Leaving the church has been difficult, Stuard said. But she feels the time is right. Her husband has been retired for the past four years, and they want to spend time together traveling and pursuing other interests.

Still, they plan to keep Franklin as their home, at least part of the year.

And she knows that even in retirement, she’ll also have time to pastor to the people she loves.

“Once you’re ordained and a pastor, you don’t really retire from that. But you retire from roles,” she said. “And I know there are still times to minister.”