By Sam Jack
CHENEY – Three Cheney churches – Cheney First Assembly of God, Trinity United Christian Church and Cheney United Methodist Church – have recently welcomed new pastors.
The Rev. Aaron Rust has been at First Assembly of God since January. He grew up in Smith County and pastored his first church at the age of 24.
After five years as a pastor in the U.S., he, his wife Glenda, and their children became Assembly of God missionaries to the country of Namibia, in southwest Africa. Daughter Etana was born there.
“It’s a very, very beautiful country,” Rust said. “The church we were at was very small, and we were there at a very pivotal time. We did a little of everything. Some of our highlights were feeding children in a refugee camp, but we also pastored the church, and my wife was the administrator for an elementary school.”
Glenda now teaches special education at the Maize Early Childhood Center. Etana is a freshman at Cheney High School, and son Levi Rust is a senior at CHS.
Rev. Rust said his family has found Cheney to be a warm community, and the First Assembly congregation has been welcoming.
“The church has always been fairly small. We believe that that’s going to change,” he said. “Our philosophy is about spending time in God’s presence, and then taking that with us to reach the world.”
The Rev. Steve Bridwell has been interim minister at Trinity United Christian Church since late February. He describes himself as an “intentional interim,” meaning that he seeks to do more than just fill the pulpit until a permanent pastor is hired.
“Stasis is a fairly common word, among leaders of corporations as well as churches,” Bridwell said. “Stasis is that place where all organizations wind up, where they’re stuck and have difficulty moving forward. … I like to breed discontent about status quo, about stasis, and get people to start thinking and dreaming about their future as a church.”
Bridwell has been an intentional interim pastor for the past 18 years; before that, he was a pastor in a more conventional style. His calling has taken him to 19 different churches, so he has never really put down roots in one place – but he doesn’t mind that.
“When you find the thing that you were supposed to do, that God gave you birth for, it’s not work. It’s playing in the Garden of Eden,” he said.
Bridwell’s wife, the Rev. Renee Bridwell, is a regional minister of the Christian Church in Kansas, a role roughly equivalent to a bishop in other denominations. The couple has two children and six grandchildren.
The Rev. Aaron Duell became Cheney United Methodist Church’s pastor on July 1, and though he grew up in Salina rather than Cheney, it was still something of a homecoming for him.
“What’s interesting is that people around here know my grandparents,” Duell said. “Bertha and Lowell Duell lived over on Harrison Street. Lowell was the school superintendent for a long time, and my grandma Bertha was actually the secretary at the church that I’m now serving.”
A stained-glass window dedicated to Bertha is on display at the rear of the sanctuary, and it was one of the first things Rev. Duell saw at his first introductory meeting in Cheney.
Duell and his wife, Rene, feel blessed that they were called to Cheney UMC. Their son, Alister, has autism and gets services at Heartspring in Wichita. What would have been a long drive from Duell’s previous posting in Lakin is now much more manageable.
“He’s been doing great, making some really good progress because we’ve been able to get him that therapy. There’s an intervention window between 3 and 5 years old that’s especially important,” Duell said. The couple also has a 2-year-old daughter, Holly.
To get to know the congregation, Duell has been attending home gatherings with small groups of church members.
“People go around and say a little about themselves and how they came to the church. Then there’s a couple questions, like, ‘What do you value about the church? When have you felt most alive and excited?’ I mostly listen. Those have been really helpful,” Duell said.