It was 25 years ago on Nov. 1 that the Rev. Dan Rush arrived in Vandalia to pastor the Bethel Baptist Church, bringing his wife, Kathy, and their two young children, Brittany, age 4, and Micah, age 2.
The family has remained here, with Pastor Dan serving Bethel Church and Kathy teaching in the Vandalia School District.
The First Years … and Ongoing
Dan had pastored a church for four years in Casey before moving to Vandalia and Bethel Church.
Casey was his first stop after seminary. “Since coming to Bethel, we have done several different building programs. The first thing we did was extend the sanctuary.
Originally, there were two separate buildings and they had already joined them together, and joined the two foyers. Then, we added on to the fellowship hall, and then added on again to lengthen it. We then added onto the (new) sanctuary and did more remodeling.”
Those were the structural changes to the church building. There has also been changes to the church body.
“We’ve lost a lot of the folks, the senior adults and leadership, due to the passing of time, and we have a lot of younger folks and newer people who are stepping up and taking over the roles of leadership,” Dan said.
“It’s awkward for some time, until you get used to the people who will lead and their skills. It takes time to figure out who wants to do what and put them in the right places.
“That’s true in any business, not just church work, trying to do what is best and getting the right people in the right place,” he said.
“Lots of changes, “ he said, “One of the things that just amazes me is the changes in our technology. When we first got here, our sound system had four tiny wires on it and it still had tubes. Now the sound board has 36 channels on it – it’s a gigantic thing.
“Before, we had the bulletin and a newsletter; now we have e-mail, etc.”
Another change is that Bethel now has two services on Sunday morning, with Sunday school held between the services.
“Dave Jones is our music leader, and he does both services,” Dan said.
“The earlier service (9 a.m.), we call the blended service. It has hymns and some familiar choruses. The second one (11:15 a.m.) is more contemporary, with a band. Ours is not as loud as some we’ve heard. It’s upbeat, with a drum and its fun, and is always an evolving process. It gives the young people a place to plug in.”
They have good attendance at both services, some staying over for the second one, he said.
Kathy added, “What I’m excited about is that the youth have gotten excited about it. This Sunday, the youth band will be playing.
“They said, ‘We want to participate – we can play the guitar and we can play the drums. They want to learn the music and the songs, rather than just doing rock and roll and contemporary rock. They want to play Christmas songs.”
The Rushes keep busy. “We have a lot of weddings, a lot of funerals,” Dan said.
“We do 20-25 weddings a year. A lot of food is served out here,” he said.
“One thing I’m very excited about is our Wednesday night program. Wednesday night, at one time, for a long time, was 15 or 20 adults for Bible study. Our leaders and folks who were interested sat down and kind of worked through a process, and we put a lot of effort into the Wednesday night program,” Dan said.
“Now, we have anywhere from 120 to 180 people here on Wednesday nights. That is the big focal point for our youth leaders. There are 50 or 60 kids here and 50-60 adults.
“We offer two different Bible studies, and we eat a meal beforehand. It is a hectic, busy, sometimes noisy evening, but it is really neat,” Dan said.
“The focal point for the adults is to help them grow in their faith, and the kids, as well,” he said.
Different classes rotate on preparing the meals. It is a relaxed time of visiting with one another. The congregation also enjoys visiting in the large foyer after services on Sunday morning.
They also enjoy a brief doughnut and coffee gathering in the fellowship room get-together between services. The fellowship room is set up with seasonal decorated tables at all times.
Reaching Out to the Community
The Bethel Baptist Church family also wants to reach out to the community.
“I went to a conference about three years ago, and the leader of the conference said, ‘As churches, we should be in our community with a helping hand, not with our hand out.’
“I liked that image, that we need to be helping,” Dan said.
The church is inviting people in the community to have their photographs taken at the church by a professional photographer at no cost. You do not have to be a church member to participate.
They are having a “trunk-or-treat” on Monday in DePaolo’s Floor Covering and Home Decorating parking lot on Sunset Drive, ready to go at 5:45 p.m.
They will have a number of cars parked in a circle, with the trunk lids open and treats in the trunks. This provides a safe environment for children to trick-or-treat, Dan said.
The kids will have their trunks decorated and are advised to have enough candy for 500 to 600 children.
“And we are working on several other things to help the community,” Dan said.
Kathy, “the School Marm”
Besides being a busy and devoted preacher’s wife, Kathy is a schoolteacher and caretaker for her brother.
Although from the city, she likes the small-town life.
Kathy remembered a time when their children were small and Dan had to go out of town. His car broke down.
These were the days before cell phones and the Rushes did not have a credit card. Dan rented a car, and when he tried to pay for it with cash, the man refused it and said he had to have a credit card and wouldn’t let him have the car.
Dan had to find a friend there and give him the money so he could use his credit card.
She also remembered that when Dan got called away, she would let the children sleep in her bed. Micah was very small then, but he associated with Daddy being called away when someone had died.
She also recalled the time her car slid into a muddy area and she was late getting to school, with no cell phone to call and explain, and was very muddy and disarrayed in appearance.
She had just got into her classroom, when the school principal, Rodney Deem, walked in and announced he was there to evaluate her. After she explained, he took mercy on her and postponed the evaluation.
Kathy said that the first day of being a substitute teacher here was also during the first week of their move to the area.
“I got a call, and was told that a teacher had said that I would sub for her,” Kathy shared. “It was the first that I had heard that I would sub for her.
“We had just moved here that Saturday and Nov. 1 was our first Sunday. I subbed that Wednesday, so then it was (the job of) finding Washington School.”
The Rushes didn’t know where the school was, and set out to find it. They laugh about it now.
“We found Jefferson Street and Lincoln Avenue,” but although they found Washington Street and drove up and down it, thinking the school should be on it, there was no Washington Street block with a school on it.
They asked someone on the street who answered, “I’ve never heard of that school.”
Kathy then taught at Washington School for 12 years after becoming full-time.
“Then I didn’t go back to school until Micah did.”
A Little “Rush Family History
Dan grew up in Plainfield and Kathy grew up in Chicago. They met when Kathy visited the church Dan grew up in. When they married, they moved to Bolivar, Mo., where they attended school for a year.
After finishing school, they went to Casey, for four years, and then came to Vandalia.
When Brittany and Micah left home, first going to college and then on o chosen and successful careers, Dan and Kathy were not really “empty nesters.”
Dan’s mother lived with them until her death, and then Kathy’s brother with special needs came to share the Rush home.
When someone asked him how he wanted to be addressed, he said just “Pastor” or Dan.
“It’s been fun. It has been good to have a place for the children to call home,” he said.
“It’s been a pleasure to be involved in the lives of all these people. Different people in my role emphasize the preaching part or the people part or the ministry part.
“I’ve always liked the term ‘pastor’ for what I do. The role of pastor is to be involved in the lives of people, marriages, funeral services,” Dan said.
“I have weak points. I’m not a great administrator and I have to really work hard to do that, but I do like to be involved.
“It’s a pleasure to see people grow, I’ve enjoyed most of what we’ve done here. There has been heartaches, but that’s with everybody everywhere.”