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In an agricultural, Mormon region, pastor nevertheless is at home

BURLEY, Idaho (BP)-–Dennis Stoneman is at home on the range. He was born in Arizona and has lived in Colorado, California and, now, Idaho as pastor of First Baptist Church in Burley.

When Stoneman went to the Burley church two years ago, it was with a degree of familiarity. His father, Herb Stoneman, once had been an interim at First Baptist and thought enough of his experience with the church that he sent his son’s resume to the search committee.

At the time, Dennis was pastor of All Nations Fellowship in Alameda, Calif. “I was happy at the church,” he said. “Things were going well. We were growing.

“When the search committee called me, I really wasn’t interested in moving.”

But after a few months in prayer, Stoneman was willing to go to Burley in view of a call. After a weeklong visit, followed by a week of prayer, Stoneman and his wife, Patty, felt God’s leading to Idaho.

Stoneman described Burley as somewhat of a “nondescript” town of 9,200 people. “It’s mainly an agricultural community. It’s a small town full of people who work hard, people who hurt, people who need to experience the saving power of Christ.”

The area around Burley is about 50 percent Mormon.

“The LDS [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] influence is everywhere,” Stoneman said. “I don’t think people from other areas of the country are prepared for the LDS factor out here.”

While ministering to people with a Mormon background is a challenge, Stoneman said, it’s not impossible.

“Most of the people we visit have never been confronted with the Gospel,” he said. “They probably won’t come to a decision for Christ the first time they hear, but they will think about it. So many of them really don’t know that much about LDS doctrine, and they see Mormonism mostly about a list of rules. The Gospel offers freedom.”

Stoneman is known around Burley. He is recognized at his daughter’s elementary school. He plays basketball with friends. He patronizes local businesses. He’s put down roots.

“I feel connected to First Baptist, to Burley and to the West,” Stoneman said. “My mom and dad live in Utah. My sister is in Phoenix. I don’t think about going home. I am home.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FAMILIAR GROUND.

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  • Polly House