Small Things in Small Town Matter
When Curtis and Sue Wright moved to the small community of Wellsville, Kansas, located about 40 miles southwest of Kansas City, Kansas, 28 years ago to pastor Wellsville Family Worship Center, they knew that not being “from” the community would take some time to overcome.
However, as Curtis reflects back on their decades of service, he admits he didn’t fully realize just how important “family roots” are in a small community.
“When we first came here, about one-third of the church were people who were new to Wellsville, one-third from a town just west of us, and one-third from the surrounding area,” he says. “It wasn’t until we started seeing people with roots in the community attending, that we realized how huge that was — family names carry a lot of weight in small communities.”
In fact, it would be more than 20 years before the first “rooted” Wellsville family started to attend the church. “It was really surprising how long it took,” Sue says. “Now, people are very accepting of us, but it took a long time to build that trust.”
Although not having a rooted family name originally placed a “foreigner” label on the Wrights, they continued to minister. What the Wrights realize now is that God may have well been behind the need for Curtis to be a bivocational pastor in order to help make ends meet.
Curtis started driving a bus for the local school as a part-time job. He then got certified to be a substitute teacher. A few years later, as their kids were growing up and getting involved in sports, the city needed a new recreation director, so he took that job as well.
“Although it would be nice to say that I had this grand plan to embrace the community through these part-time jobs, honestly, we just needed the money,” Curtis says. “But God had a plan — he used all these jobs to give me a greater presence in the community.”
In fact, Curtis says he now has been in Wellsville so long, that he remembers picking up a boy for his first day of kindergarten years ago and recently, he just conducted the same “boy’s” wedding ceremony. And now, due to his many connections with the 1,800 or so community members and his longevity as a minister in Wellsville, he’s considered the town chaplain — a far cry from the “foreigner” label placed on him and his family nearly three decades ago.
Wellsville Family Worship Center has become a solid church with about 80 to 100 people attending, but people from outside of the church regularly request that Curtis performs their wedding ceremonies. Of course, many of the young people are the same young people he had riding on his bus, sitting in his classes, or participating in the sports programs he ran (and often refereed/umpired) throughout the years.
But the Wrights are no pushovers when it comes to performing a wedding ceremony. “I require that all couples who want me to perform their wedding ceremony do six to seven weeks of pre-marital counseling with me,” Curtis says.
What make Curtis and Sue so effective in these free counseling sessions is they have years of experience as a clergy presenting couple with the Assemblies of God Marriage Encounter.
“Curtis and Sue are a great pastoral fit for Wellsville,” says Becky Rhoads, who has been serving with her husband, Mark, as the Marriage Encounter National Administrative Couple for the past 35 years. “Twenty-eight years of ministry and civic and sports involvement in the same town give them credibility with the townspeople. We could see it when we visited them and shared lunch in the local cafe. The locals interacted with Curtis and Sue, showing respect and fondness.”
Curtis, who has performed dozens of weddings over the years, says his goal is to help young people understand the challenges of marriage, how to work through them, and provide God’s perspective on marriage.
“We’re talking biblical truths in these sessions,” Curtis says. “I’m planting seeds of faith as in a lot of cases, the couples are not believers or if they are, their knowledge of God’s Word and principles are vague or weak.”
And if the couple happens to hit a rough patch in their marriage down the road, Curtis is not shy about recommending they attend a Marriage Encounter weekend.
“Marriage Encounter can help a struggling marriage, but it’s really for any couple,” Curtis explains. “It makes a good marriage better and a better marriage the best. When Sue and I went, it was one of the best things we’ve ever done — it helped our life immensely.”
And for the past decade, Sue, has also been providing another key connection to young people and their parents in the community; as her homeschooling career drew to a close, she took a job as the secretary at the local middle school.
“Kids look to me to help them in a lot of ways,” Sue says. “They think of me as kind of a mom. I’m also the first person people see when they visit the school.”
In addition to being such an integral part of everyday life in Wellsville, the Wrights also help meet the physical needs of financially struggling community members. Along with having a church pantry, once a week they travel to the Overland Park, Kansas, area to pick up bread from a Panera store. After Sue and another school employee package the bread, it is then delivered to residents in need.
All these “little things” have added up in a big way.
Becky Rhoades sums up the Wrights’ faithful ministry perfectly: “It is easy to why they are the beloved pastor couple for their entire town.”