YODER – The sturdy white church in the heart of Yoder has undergone many changes in its 90-year history, and it is in the process of renewing itself with the guidance of a new minister.
The Rev. Bill A. Eaton is new to the community as a minister, however the Goshen County native was raised just a few miles to the north and is a 1974 graduate of Goshen Hole High School at Veteran. He credits his return to a bit of heavenly influence.
“While visiting family in the area, God nudged me into checking out South Goshen Community Church as a possible call,” Eaton said of his renewed interest in Goshen County.
The idea first took root while he was attending a family reunion. He began thinking about moving closer to his mother, Beth, who still lives here.
“She’ll be 90 her next birthday, and I got to thinking that I’d like to spend more time with her,” Eaton explained while sitting in his new home a few blocks from the church.
The possibility became a reality while he was here in August for the Great American Solar Eclipse.
“We finally got together and worked things out,” Eaton said of his conversations with parish members. He moved to Yoder in mid-October.
According to Eaton, the ministry was not always his goal in life. He earned an Associate of Arts degree in Pre-Vet at Eastern Wyoming College. He then worked for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and “kicked around the state” for a couple of years.
Eaton’s next venture was marriage, one he and his wife, Deb, have enjoyed for 38 years. They have been blessed with three daughters, Rebecca, Jessica and Christina, as well as three grandchildren.
“Two years into our marriage, I heard the call to ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA),” Eaton said.
“Our little church here in Yoder sponsored me through the call process and into seminary,” Eaton said of his early experience with the local church.
The grandson of Cherry Creek homesteaders, Eaton graduated from the University of Dubuque (Iowa) Theological Seminary in May 1986. He was ordained July 13, 1986, and served in Manhattan, Kan. He then was a “designated” pastor in Libby, Mont., to help the congregation discern their future. His next stop was in Craigmont-Reubens, Idaho, where he served a farming community for six years. Next, Eaton was associate pastor at Cody, Wyo., five years, before moving to Clatskanie, Ore.
Clatskanie was his last full-time position. According to Eaton, the turmoil within the Presbyterian Church (USA) caused him to seek honorable retirement, which he was granted.
“I had faithfully served the church for 26 years. I was too young to draw my actual retirement, and I’ve kicked around and been restless ever since,” he said, sitting at his kitchen table, nursing a cup of coffee and nibbling cookies.
The Yoder position seemed to be Heaven-sent, considering his desire to return to his roots. However, a major part of his new adventure is missing because his wife, whom he met while she was a Vet-Tech student at Eastern Wyoming College, remains in Clatskanie until their house sells. She is a registered nurse BSN.
According to Eaton, his new position is “very part time,” but in addition to conducting Sunday worship and other pastoral care duties, he and his parishioners are planning for the future.
Right now, they are developing a youth program that meets Wednesday evenings in the Yoder Community Center. The evening consists of food, a lesson, and play time. Early in the new year, he hopes to start a Bible study group.
Although Eaton is taking his time in deciding what community activities he might become part of, in the past he has been a CERT, a member of a Certified Emergency Responder Team.
“Right now, I’m looking around for something to do,” Eaton said, picking up a wooden note pad holder that he crafted. “And I might take up hunting again.”
While waiting, he has been wiring a metal shop in his back yard so he can get back into woodworking on a steadier basis. He’s also thinking about sharpening his golf skills and doing some gardening.
“I’m just going to take it easy and feel my way back into the community,” he said.
Eaton isn’t the only person who is glad to see his return. Mike Ridenour, an elder in the church, believes the 30- to 50-member congregation has found the right person to lead its efforts in sustaining a local place of worship in their rural community. They have struggled in recent years to retain a permanent minister, which has resulted in parishioners joining churches in neighboring communities.
“We’re excited about it,” Ridenour explained. “Even though we lack the resources of larger communities, we believed that God would send us the right person at the right time.”