Learning from redemptive moments
Pastor has been at Towaoc church for 19 years
Caleb Soptelean/Cortez Journal
By Caleb Soptelean
Journal Staff Writer
TOWAOC — It’s been 19 years since Bud Rousset began ministering to members of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.
But the ministering goes both ways, as Rousset (pronounced Roo-say) would say.
He conducts services at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays at the Ute Mountain Presbyterian Church in Towaoc.
Rousset, 62, is actually a United Methodist pastor. He was invited to minister on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation by the tribe and his church organization’s regional presbytery back in 1993.
“I believe in eternal glory, but I’ve also learned about ‘redemptive moments,’” he said.
Once a young girl came to a “Vacation Bible Fun,” event as Rousset calls it. She said someone was coming to pick her up afterward, but no one did. It turned out that the girl had been left by herself for several days. Rousset and a parishioner were able to find a nearby relative with whom the girl could stay.
Another time, an inebriated man came into the church one Sunday evening. Rousset was the only one in the church and welcomed the man, who then asked if he could play the organ.
It’s a night Rousset still remembers vividly.
“He came in and played Bach ... and then broke into tears and told his story.” That was a fairly unique happening. “The world would’ve cast him out,” Rousset said, noting he was pleasantly surprised by the encounter.
The Mancos pastor remembers many stories from his nearly two decades at the church.
“I’ve had a lot of those (experiences) take place. I’m constantly learning what (redemptive moments) means.”
And that’s not all.
“I’ve learned more about the Old Testament from people here. They understand things from a tribal perspective more than I do,” he said. Especially from older Utes. Rousset notes that the success of the tribe as a whole is more important than individual success.
Services may have only one person or as many as 10 people. But that doesn’t usually bother Rousset. It wasn’t always that way though.
“I feel called of God to be here. It’s not based on numbers. If I’m here by myself I’m amazed at how many people go by and wave or honk. The church is their touchstone.
“Early on, I would take it very personally when people wouldn’t show up, but that’s what the call is: to be here and pray. I pray when no one shows up. I believe in the power of prayer.”
The small reservation town has left an impression on Rousset.
“Towaoc is a very spiritual place,” he said. “I have yet to come to a meeting that doesn’t start with prayer.”
The church has overcome some obstacles along the way. A fire that was started on the church altar by some juveniles in the mid—1990s required some remodeling inside the church.
“Every once in a while you can still smell some smoke,” Rousset said.
Rousset is a very busy pastor. In addition to the ministry in Towaoc, which is nearly a 30-mile trip each way, he also pastors 45 people in the ranching community of Marvel, south of Hesperus, around 30 miles in the other direction.
He is supported in his efforts by his wife Kathy. The couple lives in Mancos, so there’s a drive involved either way.
“My purpose for an evening service is to catch the folks who are having a rough time getting through the week,” he said. “It’s an oasis in our lives.”
A bilingual Ute-led service is held every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Natives involved include: Beverly Cuthair, Rocky Hayes, Charlie Lehi and Norman Lopez. Durango-area residents Jack and Nola Shoemaker of Wycliffe Bible Translators also participate. The Sunday morning service can run from 27 to 55 people, Nola Shoemaker said. The Shoemakers have been currently working with tribal member Janice Lang Gallegos on translating the New Testament into Ute on paper and video.
The Towaoc church will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2014.
Editor’s note: When the federal government assigned the various tribes to reservations, it also assigned a denomination to each reservation, Rousset said. The Presbyterians were assigned to the Ute Mountain Utes.