The Madras United Methodist Church's new pastor Daniel "Dan" Benson was impressed by the ministries the congregation already had in place when he arrived July 1.
"The ministry I see is amazing to me," he said, remarking on members' "wonderful expressions of care, love and compassion."
Benson grew up in Portland, Maine, then attended the University of Chicago for four years, majoring in the area of philosophy and literature.
Still unsure of what he wanted to do in life, he made a two-year commitment to work in northern New Hampshire at an alternative education camp for troubled 12- to 18-year-old boys.
At the rustic camp, located on top of a mountain, Benson said the counselors, "Tried to teach (the boys) how to make different choices in their lives. It was a difficult job, but a powerful one."
At the camp, he met Karen, another counselor, and they eventually became engaged. When their two years as counselors were up, they moved to Karen's hometown of Sherwood, Ore., while she earned a master's degree in teaching. The Bensons were married on July 6, 2002.
Dan Benson had felt an increasing call to ministry, which resulted in them moving to Evanston, Ill., where he attended Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary and earned a Master of Divinity.
Returning to Oregon, he received his first appointment to a church in the John Day and Prairie City area, where he served from 2006-09.
From 2009-12, he served a church in Banks, Ore., then came to Madras.
"People may think Madras is a small town, but this is the largest town I've lived in since Illinois," he laughed, noting they feel like they're in a big town now.
The Bensons now have three boys, 7-year-old twins Nathan and Jeremy, and 5-year-old Peter. While the boys are in school and preschool, Karen Benson has been doing some substitute teaching.
At the United Methodist Church, Benson said members were looking at major restructuring and revisioning for the church.
"This church is phenomenal in providing physical needs and food for people. And the church's statement that all people are welcome here as they are, regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, etc., was all work the congregation did before I got here and work we will continue," he said.
The revisioning is a way to look at how the church is engaging with the community, and "how we're sharing the good news to all God's people," he said.
Benson said one of his goals is to, "Find ways we can be clear with folks we serve, that all this is being done out of God's love -- so they can also experience that love, that grace and joy."
Coming from a camping background, both the Bensons are big supporters of the church conference's camping program and have run programs at three of the camps. Methodist camps include Camp Magruder, Camp Lagawa, Suttle Lake Camp, Wallowa Lake Camp, and Sawtooth Mountain Camp.
As a family, he said they're looking forward to exploring area rivers by canoe and hiking some of the trails.
"We are excited to be here, and it's a great blessing to serve this church. I'm having more fun and also doing more work than ever before," Benson said.