By Shan Wood
In the summer of 1965, a young, skinny graduate of Ozark Bible College, Joplin, Missouri, moved to a small city north of Buffalo, New York. He was accustomed to life in the Midwest, so becoming minister of a small church in suburban western New York was quite a change.
Moving away from family and friends to serve a new church always presents challenges, but adding such complicating factors as a first ministry in an unfamiliar region of the country usually is a recipe for a short “tour of duty.” But somehow it worked, for some 40 years later, Ken Wood is still serving the Tonawanda (New York) Church of Christ and his community with enduring faithfulness.
SERVING IN THE COMMUNITY
It took a few years to settle in, but with a firm grip on his duties at the church, Ken initiated what has proven to be a career-long, effective ministry to the people of Tonawanda. When his children began to attend the local elementary school, Ken became a leader of the Parent-Teacher Association. As a result, he became acquainted with many people in the community and the organizations they were a part of.
In the next few years, his ministry to the community expanded as he became involved with the following organizations:
• The Civil Air Patrol: CAP is an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force that provides search and rescue support all over the country and has an outstanding youth development program. Ken began serving as a chaplain with his local unit in the 1970s. In 2005, he was chosen National Chaplain of the Year.
• The Boys and Girls Clubs of America: This national organization identifies itself as “a positive place for kids.” It is dedicated to providing a place where kids can learn and grow strong and healthy. Ken’s two sons were the connection point when they started playing baseball with the local club, and Ken has served as a board member for years.
• Kiwanis International: The word Kiwanis means “we share our talents,” and members of this organization are volunteers dedicated to changing the world through service to children and communities. Ken has been a Kiwanian for more than 30 years, being active in dozens of community events, selecting deserving students for scholarships, and serving two terms as president of his local chapter.
His relationships with individuals in these organizations brought many more ministry opportunities. For years he has received calls from high school and junior high school principals to help students, their families, faculty, and others deal with suicides and other critical issues. His longevity in the community means there have been times he’s spoken with faculty and administrators who were classmates of his own children, or are the grandchildren of those he has known since the late 1960s. He also brought together leaders from the schools and local churches to implement a baccalaureate service for high school graduates.
Ken also has worked closely with the local fire department, and because of his growing connection to that part of the community, was named the first chaplain of the Tonawanda fire department (a volunteer position) in December 2001; the 66-year-old continues in the position.
The fire chief told the Tonowanda News in 2001:
People know him, and they’re not shy when he comes up to them. . . . His counseling abilities have helped, and you can just tell he enjoys it. It’s one of those things that mean extra work, but you can tell he wants to be involved.
The reporter asked Ken if he ever wanted to be a firefighter: “I never wanted to be a fireman,” he replied, “but if I can do something that helps render a little community service, it’s very nice. I just do whatever I can to take the edge off of what is typically a devastating time.”
LEADING THE CHURCH
Ken has been able to do all of these things while working full-time at the church. As in many small churches, Ken is the only minister. For years he’s served as worship leader, secretary, and youth leader, taught Sunday school, sung special music, met with elders and deacons, and supervised the care and upkeep of the buildings.
For many years he was a dean and board member for a local church camp and served as an administrator and board member for a Bible college. Throughout his time at the church, he’s been involved in and led building programs and remodeling efforts.
While there were certainly obstacles, he and his wife, Judy, through the years of service to church and community, also raised their family. Their three children are now married, raising families of their own, and also serving their local churches and communities. One son, Shan, is senior minister with First Christian Church in Orlando, Florida. The other son, Eric, serves as an elder at the Tonawanda Church of Christ. Their daughter, Nell, is wife of Derek Voorhees, spiritual development and lifegroups minister with LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado.
Ken continues to be blessed to be a part of a small church in a tight-knit community where he’s able to balance the demands of the congregation’s ministry with service to the whole community. The uncommon opportunity to reside in one community for so long has produced an uncommon ministry. In a world where people long for a leader or counselor they can trust, the service of a minister the community knows and admires is a true blessing.
Shan Wood, the son of Ken Wood, is senior minister with First Christian Church in Orlando, Florida.