Bruce Wehner has worked a wide assortment of jobs in his 65 years – from stationery engineer at Kodak, government warehouse worker and cassette tape ministry employee, to Walmart associate, prison chaplain, funeral home worker and church pastor, just to name a few.
The last two are his current jobs, as he’s always been bi-vocational. No matter where he is working, Wehner gives God credit for leading him to these jobs and to the people to whom he ministers.
“Wherever God has led me, that’s where I was. And that’s where God used me, and that’s where He’s using me now,” he said. “It’s not so much a religious background, but rather a relationship background.”
Wehner, currently serving as pastor of Rocky Sink Baptist Church in Live Oak, describes himself as a “Heinz 57” when it comes to church work due to his multidenominational background. Raised Catholic, he came to know Christ in college and was baptized though a Jesus Rally in 1978 and then became active in the national Jesus Movement.
He’s also worked in the Methodist church, Assemblies of God church, and other Pentecostal churches. He received his bachelor’s degree in pastoral counseling from Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo. But he’s clear where he stands today.
“My roots are Southern Baptist as far as the Bible and putting God first,” he said. “Those are tenets that are non-negotiable.”
Serving in a prison, retirement community, church
His varied church background over the past 40 years prepared him for ministering to those in the state prison system, he said, first as a volunteer on weekends and later as a full-time prison chaplain at Hamilton Correctional Facility in Jasper. More than 100 different religions were represented there, including Wiccans, Dogons, Muslims and more.
“As a prison chaplain, you’ve got to minister to all the religions, all the men and all the situations,” he said. “They knew I didn’t always agree with their religion and what they believed in, but we had respect for one another. Being a servant is the best way to minister to them. You establish relationships and try to show them that with Christ, there’s a better way.”
As prison volunteers in Jacksonville, he and his wife Tammie would lead inmates in a worship service on Sundays, work they found very rewarding.
“Not sure if you’ve ever heard inmates sing, but they sing at the top of their lungs,” he said. “It’s not like at a local church. We got to see a lot of lives changed.”
Married for 26 years, the couple have always served together as a ministry team. They sing and play together for Sunday night services at their church, with him on guitar and her on mandolin. They also play together the fourth Saturday of each month for the residents of Advent Christian Village, a retirement community in nearby Dowling Park.
Servant leadership is also important as he ministers to members of Rocky Sink Baptist, where he has pastored the past two years. The church has been through a lot, he said, but better days are ahead.
“We’re growing together,” he said. “It’s not just me expecting them to grow. We’re growing together as a body, and we’re going to do what God wants us to do. We’re loving one another, praying for one another and being there for one another.”
Wehner said loving one another can sometimes be difficult. He shared how the members struggled to love one man, a unique character who presented a challenge. Through him, church members learned to love him and take him in. And through his death, they were able to minister to his daughter – who has accepted Christ and turned her life around – as well as the daughter’s family.
‘I’ve learned to let Him lead and be open to what He wants me to do.’
That experience is a great example of being obedient to Christ and leaving the results to Him, he believes.
“I’ve learned to let Him lead and be open to what He wants me to do,” he said. “God calls us to minister and be His witnesses, and He will take care of the results. We’re not a failure if we’re being obedient to God. We have no idea what God’s word is doing and how it’s changing people.”