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story.lead_photo.caption Homecoming: Dr. David Bush speaks before the congregation at El Dorado First United Methodist Church. Bush recently took the position as pastor of the church, returning home after a nine year run as pastor in Stuttgart. - Photo by Terrance Armstard

For Dr. David Bush, the new pastor at El Dorado First United Methodist, this assignment is coming home.

“My two dream churches to pastor at were First Stuttgart,” Bush said. “And I guess my other one would be First El Dorado.”

Bush grew up in town, attending Yocum Elementary School before graduating from El Dorado High School in 1976. He went to church on Sundays at what is now St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.

Every Sunday afternoon, Bush and his family went over to his grandmother’s house for lunch.

“Another part of my family went to St. Paul Methodist, some of them went to First United Methodist, here, some of them went to Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. On Sundays, we would all go after church to my grandmother’s. She’d cook a wonderful meal. We all had to bring our church bulletin. My grandmother was a shouting Methodist. She would not attend church on Sunday morning, but she was faithful on Sunday night.”

Bush met his wife, Joanie, when they were both students at El Dorado High School. They started dating in their junior year of high school and have been together ever since.

Their first date was on March 3, 1975. Bush said it was threatening to snow. For their first date, they went to Westside Baptist Church to hear Paul Jackson preach.

“Then we went to Sonic for hot chocolate,” Bush said. “You know, they don’t sell hot chocolate at Sonic anymore and every year, Joanie and I try to go out on March the third to Sonic and we get something besides the hot chocolate when we do that.”

They dated for four years before getting engaged. The two now have a daughter – with a daughter of her own – and a son.

When Bush first started in ministry, he served as a pastor in Strong for two years and Junction City for four. While he was a pastor in Junction City, he did four services a day between three different churches. Over the course of his time as a pastor, he’s served in all five districts of Arkansas.

He’s been a pastor for 41 years. It was the people at Junction City who encouraged him to go to Southern Arkansas University Magnolia for college before going to Memphis Theological Seminary School.

Memphis Theological Seminary is a nondenominational Christian school, which allowed Bush to be exposed to a variety of Christian-based faiths and people who follow them.

“I think it made me more appreciative of other Christians. I think Christians believe in 90 percent of the same things and just 10 percent differently,” he said. “We mainly disagree over church government and sacraments. But that’s the way the real world is. You go to a town and you’ve got every flavor. There’s great Christians in the Church of Christ and there’s great Christians in the Catholic church, and then there’s not so great Christians in all of them.”

When it comes to El Dorado First United Methodist, Bush has a number of ways he’s hoping to impact the church and the community. He wants to grow the congregation and work to be a community pastor.

While Bush was at First United Methodist Church of Stuttgart, where he was for nine years before returning to El Dorado, the church grew by 230 members during his time there. Currently, El Dorado First United Methodist has a congregation of 685. While it has been declining over recent years, Bush hopes to get it growing again. Since he started, the church has been averaging one new person a week, he said.

“Our first service is growing, our second service is growing. I’d like to see us make a come back and continue our ministries,” Bush said. “With this $3.5 million renovation to our educational building, to have more children and youth coming. Our Sunday night program and Wednesday night program in Stuttgart got to where it was over 200 kids. For some of the kids, that was the only church service they had. We’d feed them a good meal.”

Bush has taken pride in being a community pastor. Since getting into town, Bush has been going to visit the schools. He and church members helped with Feeding the Wildcats. He did the prayer at the El Dorado new teacher breakfast before school started.

Bush is going to be participating in the Forty Days of Prayer in October and is giving assistance with the Interfaith Help Services. Members of the church also participate in the Fellowship of Sent, which brings meals to people who are homebound, and go out to the John R. Williams Hospice House once a week to deliver meals to family members.

“I want First Methodist to be an active church from the cradle to the grave,” Bush said.

When it comes to returning to El Dorado, Bush said he frequently runs into people around town who he knew in school. He said he’s run into high school friends at stores, restaurants and in his congregation.

As for his assignment here, Bush said he hopes that it’ll be the last before he retires.

“I hope I’m here several years and that this is my last full-time appointment,” Bush said. “I’ll preach until I die, but I won’t pastor or be an administrator.”

Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.

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