Matt West knew it was fate when he moved his family in December from Arkansas to Parsons and began as pastor at Parsons Church of God, 2401 Crawford.
“God told us to come here,” West said. “And we love it. We’re happy with our decision.”
West and his wife, Marlena, and their daughters, Abby, 9, Adalynn, 7, and Acacia, 4, relocated to Parsons from Bald Knob, Arkansas, a six-hour drive. Since December, the West family made Parsons its home and hopes to bring back former parishioners to the church.
West said he’s been a pastor for eight years and when the position opened in Parsons, he and his wife mulled a move to Kansas.
“It was a pretty big choice on our end, but we have some family that live this way, too, and we wanted to give our girls the best opportunities. Bald Knob is about the size of Wichita, so moving to a small, rural area like this was new at first, but we really do love it here. The community has been so welcoming of us, and the school system at Meadow View where our girls go is phenomenal. We want to share in that welcome, though, by welcoming new and old faces here at the church. Everyone is so laid back.”
West said the church’s mission is about connecting — people to God, people to church and people to people. He thinks he and his wife were connected to the ministry by the power of prayer.
“We found out about the position through the church we attended there in Bald Knob, a denomination of the Church of God,” said Marlena, who works as a bookkeeper at Labette Bank while her husband is a subcontractor for AT&T and installs telecommunication lines.
When they first arrived, attendance at the Church of God averaged about 10 people. Now, West and his family welcome around 30 or so at the Sunday service.
“Every week it can vary,” he said. “But we’ve had a few people approach us and tell us they thought the church was closed. We’re not closed at all. We want to be very active for not just helping people find that relationship with God but by bettering the community in whatever way we can.”
One special event Marlena planned was a free backpack giveaway, which also included school supplies, for 50 kids earlier in the month.
“It went great. We had so many people thank us because some families can’t afford those things, and we understand that. We hope to do more next year, but we’ve got events in mind for a trunk or treat, an Easter basket giveaway, anything that could help families and get them talking about our mission,” she said.
The Wests are planning on expanding the wheelchair ramp. The money will be raised through an enchilada fundraiser from Aug. 26 through Sept. 4. On Sept. 7 from 2 to 4 p.m. the West family and volunteers will begin making deliveries. Order forms can be picked up at the church or requested through the church’s Facebook page, Parsons Church of God.
West said he’s already experienced rewards in his service at Parsons.
“All in all, it really is rewarding to watch people grow in Christ and get closer to the Lord. And knowing it has nothing to do with me, but me helping them in the right direction. I want people to understand I’m me, just as messed up as the next person. I’m not someone on a pedestal, because I fail like everyone else. That’s what I push when I talk to people and I think them knowing that helps them open up a bit more. They get curious and attend our services. People tell me my demeanor helps them understand better. I think that’s from how I try relating to others and vice versa.”
For small or diminishing congregations, ensuring that utilities are paid and services continue can be difficult. West praised those who have donated so far to keep the church operating.
“Well, my wife is good with numbers, too, when it comes to budgeting,” West said. “She really helps with every aspect of the church, and our girls really pitch in.”
The Wests also started a ministry for men and women, Royalty Children’s Ministry and, more recently, After Shock, which is for teenagers.
“We keep telling the community we love them, and we care about them. We’re looking forward to being here with our boots on the ground,” West said.
The Church of God has Sunday school at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays followed by worship at 10:30 a.m. and an evening worship at 5 p.m.