I Am the Missouri Conference...
By Chris Wheeler
Jennifer Bell has played a piano since the second grade. That didn’t mean she could play the organ.
“I tried once, and thought no way,” she said. “I couldn’t believe how hard it was to use your hands and feet at the same time.”
But later, when the meditation organist who played before church needed a few weeks, Bell was asked to step up. Her son, who was born premature and was a high-risk pregnancy, was two months old and doing well. So filled with gratitude for how things had turned out, Bell stepped up to the task, practicing the organ between Sundays. “I learned as I went, missed notes and all,” she said.
About five years ago, Bell’s husband Mike shared that he felt called to ministry. At the time they were figuring out how to pay for their son’s college, and when they looked into seminary the cost was daunting. Then they were told that Campbell UMC, a nearby country church, needed a pastor. Mike Bell started preaching there, and soon Sumach UMC was added to his charge.
“We’ve gone in as a team, he preaches and I play the piano,” Bell said. “We’ve grown to love these two little churches. When there are only a few of you attending, you become very close. When someone is gone, we know where they are.”
Bell and her husband remain members of First UMC Kennett. She still plays for the children’s choir, and sings with the choir at Kennett once a month. “This is like a mission for us,” she said.
Sometimes Bell’s role in the three churches bring them together. She leads a Bible study for women at her home on Sundays at 6 p.m. The group includes women from First UMC Kennett, Campbell UMC and Sumach UMC. It’s not the only small group that she leads. Bell fell into a state of depression after witnessing a child being killed while riding a bicycle. Through that experience she felt called to minister to others suffering from depression, and formed a weekly small group ministry called Whispers of Hope for women who are experiencing depression and anxiety.
Serving a small church is like going home for Bell. She grew up in Caruth UMC, although she was involved in the youth group at Kennett when she was young. Now Caruth UMC is served by Jim Pemberton, who had also been a member of Kennett.
After high school, Bell attended Missouri State University in Springfield, and ended up singing in the choir at Schweitzer UMC. Her son attends Missouri State now, and has been active in the college-age ministry there, and with Wesley South.
“My son’s faith grew a lot through the youth program at Kennett led by Chris and John Wheeler, and through his involvement in CCYM (Conference Council Youth Ministries) and Conference youth mission trips,” Bell said.
Her son currently plays music and helps lead worship at Wesley South.
“He’s under the assumption that when you are at a church you don’t just attend, you serve,” Bell said. Bell's gratitude for First UMC doesn’t just extend to how it’s forming the generation that follows her, she’s also eternally grateful for how they’ve cared for the generation before her. Her mother has been in her final stage of life in the past year, and the church has been there for her. She said she’s received much more from the church than she has ever given.
“I couldn’t begin to name all the church programs that have reached out to my dad and mother,” she said. “They have ministered to them at the nursing home, have brought them cookies, the youth ministry has been out there, even the kindergarten Sunday school class loaded up and came one Sunday. They’ve done so much.”