December 20, 2016
Rev. Bruce Jefferies has had a variety of appointment settings, with several rural (Larger Scotland County Parish, Lewistown, Palmyra, Windsor, Aurora), mid-sized city (Missouri in Columbia) and large city (Green Trails in Chesterfield). He is now in his ninth year at the Rockport and Watson charge in Northwest Missouri. Several small churches have closed in the area, and people connected to those ended up at Rockport. Watson used to be on a two-point charge with Hamburg, Iowa, but an action of General Conference made it so churches couldn’t be connected across Conference lines, so that changed more than 40 years ago.
When Jefferies came to Watson in 2008 the average attendance was six. It now averages 15 and frequently has more than 30 in worship. It has had its challenges during that time. The flood of 2011 reached the Watson church.
“The building had quite a bit of damage, but no one ever said anything about getting rid of it,” Jefferies said. “It looks better now than it has in a long time.”
Some recent re-wiring made it possible to install air conditioning, which the church did this past summer. It had never had air conditioning before. Watson is a town of about 100 people and has a Baptist church in addition to the Methodist.
Jefferies finds the agricultural community in the Northwest very different than his previous experience in the Northeast.
“The equipment they use in these big bottom fields is massive,” he said.
Although the perception of agriculturally dependent areas like Atchison County is one of decline, Jefferies has noticed there is a lot a money in the community when a good cause arises.
“My son graduated from here in 2011 in a class of 26 students, and that class received $2.5 million in scholarships. A lot of those were locally generated,” Jefferies said.
There have been times that a local foundation has provided money to the church for improvements on the food bank or repairs.
“No one applies for it, the check kind of just comes. Someone with the foundation sees the need and offers to help,” he said.
Jefferies said the Rockport school, and the neighboring schools of Tarkio and Fairfax, are among the best in the state, with high performing teachers and the latest technology.
Many people in the area work at the Cooper Nuclear Station, just across the Missouri River in Brownville, Nebraska. Rockport is also home to Midwest Data, a large data storage facility.
Jefferies said that the people of the community tend to be conservative but are also open to other viewpoints, more so than some other places where he has served.
From 2000–2010, Atchison County lost more people than any other county in Missouri.
The population of the county was 5,685 at the 2010 census. The people who are there remain faithful to their community, though, and to their church.
“Our church at Rockport is the best building I’ve ever served in, in terms of maintenance,” Jefferies said. “Whenever it is time to replace something here, they do it to last. They try to buy and hire locally and check out the contractor’s reputation.”
Much of the town are fans of Cornhusker’s football, the college team of the University of Nebraska.
“A lot of people in our community regularly travel to Omaha or Lincoln, especially for medical care,” Jefferies said.
“I’m closer to three state capitol’s than I am to my own,” Jefferies said, noting that Des Moines is about a three hour drive, Lincoln and Topeka are two hours and Jefferson City is about four hours. Watson has worship at 9 a.m. Rockport’s worship starts at 10:45. Rockport has a rummage sale in the spring and fall and raise $2,000 to $3,000 each time. Jefferies said the sale managers are very discriminatory in what they will accept.
“They don’t sell anything they wouldn’t wear themselves,” he said.
Leftover items go to a mission for the homeless in Omaha.
“I’m lucky to be here. I’m blessed,” Jefferies said. “Sometimes finances are tense before harvest, or when the corn prices fall through the floor, but people come back to being their generous selves.”
Jefferies recalled that his first Christmas in the area, a local couple lost their home in a fire, and a community benefit event quickly raised several thousand dollars for them.
“The ethos of generosity here is one I’ve never experienced at any other place,” Jefferies said.