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Jerry Earl Johnston: The little desert church that could: Churchgoers rally after pastor unexpectedly dies

Published: Saturday, June 8 2013 1:30 p.m. MDT

PANACA, Nev. — From the center of Cedar City, go west on Highway 56 toward Modena.

Go past the fields of alfalfa that will soon become hay.

Go past the green and gray sagebrush that always looks thirsty, even when it rains.

Go past Modena, and stop in Panaca, Nev., — a tiny town filled with old-growth timber and pioneer outbuildings. It looks like a town that time forgot.

Judging by the many churches in the area, however, God has apparently not forgotten it.

And that goes for the little Bible Talk Church on the east edge of town.

Built of boards and painted red, with a Wild West storefront, it looks like part of a set for a John Wayne movie.

And in recent times, the Bible Talkers have had their ups and downs.

“We were meeting in the firehouse,” says Sandy Olson, a local member. “Then when a restaurant closed down we took over the building.”

Many Sundays the pews were filled.

At the pulpit, Pastor Pete Wells, a minister/farmer, kept people enthused.

Then one evening, while Pastor Pete was on his way to do chores, the Good Lord called him home.

“It was terrible,” says Olson.

Eventually, the grief the congregation felt would give way to concern.

How was the little band to survive?

There’s an old Vaudeville line about a town that’s so small it doesn’t even have a town drunk. The residents need to take turns.

Well, the Bible Talk congregation was so small they decided to take turns as well — at the pulpit.

“We have someone speak each week for 15 minutes or so,” says Daryl Bradshaw, another member. “The topic has to come from the Bible. We are a Christian group.”

“It has been very informal,” adds Olson. “And I’ve rather enjoyed it. People bear testimony to the trials they’ve had.”

There's singing. And Bible study.

But having gone from blessing to bad luck and back again, the “Christian group” isn’t sure what lies ahead.

Yet, as they wait for the Lord to send a new minister, they are determined to hold on and improvise — two qualities that have kept dozens of these little Nevada desert communities alive for decades.

You have to believe the folks who planted those old-growth shade trees a century ago would have expected as much.

Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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