WILSON, Wyo. (BP)–The focus at Wilson Community Fellowship is outward.
The Southern Baptist congregation since its inception in 1984 has met in the town’s ‘old schoolhouse,’ now a community center. Its pastor is only part-time, and while the music/worship is a sweet sound to the Lord, it’s probably not to many others, the pastor said.
Instead, Wilson Community Fellowship makes a major investment each month into meeting the needs of families, the poor and homeless, children, and tourists in the Jackson Hole area. Smaller ministries include a food pantry, plus overnight lodging and emergency car repairs for travelers.
The congregation also gives 5 percent of its undesignated income each month to Wind River Baptist Association, for mission needs in the northwestern quadrant of Wyoming. And it gives 10 percent of its income to the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptist’s acclaimed method of pooling mission money for maximum effectiveness around the world.
“It’s a very giving church,” said John Scudder. The congregation has doubled since he was called as pastor in the spring of 1996. About 50 people now worship on Sunday at Wilson Community Fellowship, which is the town’s only church. The congregation includes blue collar and service industry workers, nurses, building contractors, city employees, hotel workers and retired people who live in the area for its scenic beauty.
Wilson is on the west bank of the Snake River in western Wyoming’s Teton County, five miles west of the town of Jackson, and less than seven miles from the Jackson Hole Ski Resort.
The Teton mountain range lies in this, one of the nation’s most ruggedly beautiful areas, with 18 peaks that soar upwards of 10,000 feet — including the Grand Teton at 13,890 feet — straight up from the valley floor.
Elk, deer, bear, buffalo and a wide variety of other animals — plus about 3,500 people — live on the west bank of Jackson Hole, a remote area 60 miles south of Yellowstone National Park and 15 miles east of the Idaho border. The animals forage for sustenance in the towering pine forests, lush meadows and in the roiling waters of the Snake River.
Most everything is more expensive in the Jackson Hole area than it might be elsewhere. That’s because of the location, weather and tourists.
The nearest interstate highway is about two hours west, over the 8,431-foot Teton Pass. The snow comes anytime from Labor Day to Memorial Day. June snowstorms are not all that unusual and once in recent memory it snowed on the 4th of July. More than three million tourists each year come for snow and other high-country sports and activities, for some of the nation’s best fly-fishing and big game hunting, or just to see the sights.
Teton Resort Ministries is an extension of Wilson Community Fellowship, the North American Mission Board, Cooperative Program and other donors. It provides eight weeks of five-day, day camps in three locations, and eight weeks of two-day sports camps in one location, all directed by Scudder and led by Wilson Community members assisted by six summer missionaries, self-supported Innovators, and mission teams from across the U.S.
Geared for tourist children as well as town children, the day camps are probably Wilson Community Fellowship’s most effective advertising, the pastor said.
“While many people in the community do not attend church, most of them are more than willing to send their children to one of our day-camps for a few hours each day,” Scudder said. “We see this as one of our best opportunities to get the word of God into area homes.”
Teton Resort Ministries also provides Friday and Saturday evening and Sunday morning campground services during the summer.
In addition, Wilderness Discovery backpacking trips are “physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually challenging, Scudder said. Another aspect of Teton Resort Ministries’ activities is its Wilderness Adventure, which include hiking, low-impact camping, topographic map reading, fishing, photography, and plant and animal identification.
Scudder as a personal ministry provides a multi-day big game hunt opportunity each October for one or more Wyoming pastors. Ministry at Wilson Community Fellowship always comes down to meeting individual needs, Scudder said.
“Jackson isn’t on a main thoroughfare. You have to almost want to get here, to get here,” Pastor Scudder said. “A lot of people who come here, hear about high-paying jobs but the cost of living is so much that a lot of them get in trouble financially here, and we try to help them.”
Since Wilson Community Fellowship is the only church in town, everyone even passing by who seeks help from a religious organization contacts the pastor.
Transients receive overnight lodging, gas money and emergency car repairs, on a case-by-case basis. “Because we’re not on a main thoroughfare, most of the calls for assistance are legitimate,” Scudder said.
Community residents receive emergency food supplies and assistance with rent and utility payments, again on a case-by-case basis. “With rent for a two-bedroom home as high at $1,200 a month, it doesn’t take long for folks to get into financial trouble due to sickness or a lost job,” the pastor added.
Some are referred to Good Samaritan Mission in Jackson, where Wilson Community member Russ Wood works. Wood, a Mission Service Corps volunteer chaplain endorsed by NAMB, receives about $500 a month in love offerings gathered at the church for his ministry in the community.
But Wilson Community Fellowship doesn’t limit its ministering to the Jackson Hole area. Scudder drives over Teton Pass each week for a Bible study in Victor, Idaho, about a 45-minute trek west, in decent weather.
“I don’t know if God will start a church out of this or not, but that’s what we’re looking for,” Scudder said. “I’ve been meeting with these families for about a year now. One came here to church one Sunday; they had moved up from Phoenix. Then another family moved into the area from Texas.”
That’s how Southern Baptist work grows in Wyoming. First Southern Baptist in Casper was organized in 1951 as the only SBC congregation in Wyoming, Montana or the Dakotas. Fifty years later there are more than 300.
“Debbie, she’s the reason we’re able to stay here,” Scudder said of his wife. “She’s an RN and works at St. Johns Hospital in Jackson.” Scudder supplements her income with his partial salary from the church and resort ministry, and from another part-time job as grounds and maintenance mechanic at Jackson Hole Aviation.
A licensed pilot, Scudder’s claim to fame from his airport job is the photograph of him that was taken in front of Air Force II. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney lives a mile down the road from the Scudders.
There’s much more that could be said about Wilson Community Fellowship.
— “What’s important is that people come to this church because they really want to come, they want to learn God’s word,” said Joleen Tafoya, a young mother who was baptized in December. Her father, mother and sister also are new Christians. “There are not a lot of dead bodies in this church. They’re actually going here because they want to learn God’s word.”
— A Tuesday night prayer meeting for national revival and spiritual awakening grew out of an in-home study of Fresh Encounter by Henry Blackaby.
— Christmas Eve service at Jackson Hole Ski Resort;
— Easter Sunrise service atop Rendezvous Mountain;
— Once-a-month meal cooked at Good Samaritan Mission so everyone in the church who wants to can get involved in hands-on ministry;
— Debbie Scudder’s medical mission trips twice to Bosnia, and in February to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City;
— Members Darton and Rozan Welch’s mission trips to Kenya, Ghana and Norway;
— The Missouri schoolteacher couple — Keith and Linda Kirchner — who serve as cooks each summer for the Teton Resort Ministries staff, and the ministry given to all these as they serve the Lord in a hands-on assignment.
— And all the above going on in a church with an annual budget of $35,000.
“We’re all a part of the Cooperative Program,” Scudder said. “We receive some CP Missions money for the resort ministries. We give some as a congregation. We serve here and we reach out around the world. It’s exciting to be a part of what God is doing through Southern Baptists and the Cooperative Program.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: DAY CAMP and THE GRAND TETON.