Kempner First United Methodist Church

Stephanie Berry, left, and Joan Dowdy hold a blanket at the Kempner United Methodist Church Bazaar.

If 35 people attend church on a Sunday at Kempner United Methodist Church, it’s a good day, Pastor Joe Tognetti said.

“Thirty-five members for us is a lot, There’s a level of sincerity and faith with people in this church who know its about more than just saying you’re a believer,” he said. “They are really living out the faith and are invested in doing that.”

Tognetti, 28, pastors a congregation whose average parishioner is 55-65 years old. Some Sundays, 1/3 of the congregation attending worship services will be under 18. Another Sunday, no one in the congregation will be under 18, said Tognetti, a native of San Francisco.

The pastor is still learning about his parishioners and the Kempner community.

“There are a lot of informal things I had to learn. Kempner is a very different culture (than San Francisco) and people here have a very different world view,” Tognetti said.

An incorrect phone number landed Tognetti at Kempner United Methodist Church. Coming out of seminary, he was offered two different pastoral positions. When he called one of the churches to accept an offer, he had mistakenly written the number down wrong and could not find the correct number to call. Tognetti then got a call from a bishop asking about his wife’s family living in Lampasas and encouraged him to take a pastoral job in Kempner 12 miles away. He agreed.

“I really do believe the wrong phone number was God saying, ‘Not that route. I want you (in Kempner).’”

The balance between the pastor’s youth and the wisdom of the experienced congregation allow the church to do a number of ministries in the rural community.

The church holds an annual yard sale and fall bazaar which brings in $1,500-$2,000 annually and serves as a ministry within and outside the church walls.“People who don’t have a church or don’t go to our church will donate items,” said Irene Webster, who serves on the bazaar’s planning committee. “We are blessed with a lot of people who have a whole lot of talent.”

More than 1,000 volunteer hours go into the event each year, from making quilts to setting up. Money from the sale of bazaar items is earmarked for building maintenance.

The church has operated a food pantry since the early 1980s and serves 14-18 people a month in Kempner, Copperas Cove and Lampasas. It provides Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to 17 families each year.

“Whoever needs food, when the good Lord gives it, we hand it out,” said Ann Mitchell who has overseen the food pantry since joining the church in 1986.

The pantry gets no food from the food bank in Austin and relies on donations and money from the general fund. Kempner United Methodist Church holds Sunday school at 9:30 a.m. for all ages and Sunday worship services at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday night prayer service is at 7 p.m. A young adult outreach ministry was started in September with meeting times that vary.

Contact Wendy Sledd at or (254) 501-7476

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