By Bill Webb
COLOMA — Members of Coloma Baptist Church in rural northwest Missouri honored Bruce Trussell on Feb. 24 by celebrating his 50th anniversary as their pastor.
The veteran minister describes himself as at least trivocational — he also is a retired agriculture teacher and maintains a successful farming operation.
More than 300 visitors who know him as pastor, educator, farmer and/or neighbor came through an afternoon receiving line to greet him and Evelyn, his wife of 46 years.
The 50-year pastor-church relationship is one of mutual appreciation and commitment.
“This is one outstanding church,” Trussell said in an interview. “They are a loving church. They love the Lord. They reach out into the community into the hearts of the people.”
And they love their pastor.
Trussell is not only a pastor but a neighbor and a friend, member Keith Schaffner explained. “He’s our pastor and he’s a dear friend,” emphasized Ercel Colliver, a Coloma member for 40 years. Others echoed that sentiment as they lingered in the fellowship hall over cake and punch.
Trussell was a teen in 1958 when he became pastor of the church where he grew up — just shy of his 18th birthday.
He served faithfully while pursuing a bachelor of science degree in agriculture at the University of Missouri and then bachelor and master’s degrees in divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
His link to the Trussell farm — the homestead where he grew up is the first house south of the church — certainly contributed to his long tenure at Coloma Church, Trussell acknowledges.
Another career began in 1975 with an opening for an ag teacher at nearby Tina-Avalon High School. The superintendent — a good friend — offered him the job even though he lacked some of the required hours. Trussell secured a temporary teaching certificate and picked up the hours — and another master’s degree — later.
“My funerals and church responsibilities get first priority,” he stipulated at the time. The superintendent agreed and “filled in for me when I did a funeral,” Trussell recalled. He knows that few administrators would have been as flexible.
Teaching for 23 years brought him a good bit of satisfaction and some recognition, he said. “In 1978, I had a team of three students who won the state farm management contest and were fourth in the nation.”
Evelyn taught history and social studies at the same school, as well as some math.
Trussell admits that he had “an inquiry or two” from other churches over the years, “but they didn’t develop.” Over time, “they gave up on me,” he quipped. “I guess I was not a fly-by-nighter.
“I have always felt very happy, very satisfield, not restless in what I’m doing,” he said.
“Sometimes rural churches have a problem of preachers coming and going.... The simple idea of being available day or night and offering anything I can in the name of Lord in comfort and guidance with people” has brought him joy, Trussell said.
The long-time pastor has no specific plans to retire, but an annual trip of several weeks to Tucson, Ariz., in the winter has perhaps been the beginning of a time of transition. It has given others, including one of the congregation’s own — college freshman Stephen Eschenbach — an opportunity to do pulpit supply and for the church to hear others in the pulpit.
Members faithfully step up to handle ministry needs while the pastor is away. “It’s at this time that the Coloma Church may need to look at what’s in the church’s future, either in a few years when I retire or the Lord calls me home,” he said.
In (semi) retirement, Trussell has found time to enjoy his hobby of woodworking. A walnut display cabinet sits in the church, and he’s made another for his wife. Additional pieces have gone to others.
His big project is the construction of a stagecoach. He has driven one in the Tucson Rodeo Parade, and is using historical society plans to build one of his own, relying on professionals for parts like wheels.
“I guess I’m kind of a cowboy,” he acknowledges, noting he began began wearing cowboy boots in the 1960s.
“I knew a guy at Ludlow,” Trussell recalled. “He didn’t know my name but [he said] he wanted that cowboy preacher to do his funeral — and I did.”
The last time he checked, Trussell had performed 680 funerals and in excess of 400 weddings.
The 50-year pastor is quick to indicate his indebtedness to his wife, who worked while he attended seminary and has supported him wholeheartedly in all his vocational pursuits.
He is proud of his two sons and daughter and their spouses, his two granddaughters and his grandson.
Trussell requested no program on his 50th anniversary beyond morning worship, a carry-in meal and a reception.
During the morning service, members expressed their appreciation with a plaque and Rep. John Quinn presented him a framed resolution from the Missouri House of Representatives.
Just like he did 50 years earlier on his first Sunday, Trussell preached, reminding members: “This day is not the finish line; the finish line is when we walk hand-in-hand with Jesus.
“This celebration is a starting block...” he said.