Westside Community Church founder marks half-century in ministry

Pastor Dennis Aud hardly needs to offer the reminder.

His kinetic energy and exuberance speaks loudly in his office at Westside Community Church, 124 Tipton Lakes Boulevard in Columbus.

There, he gestures animatedly, sharing photos of his trip to Israel a few years ago, reaching toward a corner mantle for the souvenir shofar to blow what sounds like a clarion call to freedom, and reading from the book of Matthew and the small group study he was preparing for a few days away.

He talks of future ministry with the excitement of a recent seminary graduate. Yet, he still states his case straightforwardly.

“I’m not retiring,” he says carefully.

No, not even after more than half a century in pulpits from Missouri to Indiana. Aud, 66, the founder of Westside in 2003, several months ago transitioned from senior pastor to full-time pastor of care and outreach for the assembly averaging 175 to 200 people per service.

The Pine Bluff, Missouri native might as well be pastor of joy, perhaps, too. Even amid the everyday tasks far from preaching.

“If something needs to be done (at a church), you learn to just do it,” he said. “I’ve mopped floors and cleaned bathrooms.”

To say nothing of also leading worship for some time, Bible studies, you name it.

“I want to continue to serve as long as I have good energy and focus,” he said. “And that word passion keeps coming up.”

Such as his passion to encourage — so much so that, when the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing hit in spring 2020, he quickly reached out to his members and others with phone calls, front porch visits and brief, storm-door prayer.

Amid the ongoing trial, he is sensitive and diplomatic enough to acknowledge more than once the sometimes somber sense in the community because of the coronavirus, both with illnesses and the deaths.

And it is evident that he is substantially pained by others’ suffering.

“If the (Christian) church can’t stay positive during this time especially, and be a source and a place of encouragement, then we’re failing,” Aud said. “There are people all around us who need a word of hope.”

Toward that end, at Christmastime 2020 through April 2021, Westside erected illuminated, 8-foot-tall letters spelling the word “hope” on its property facing the heavily traveled Indiana 46 West to strengthen passersby.

“We wanted that to be our ongoing message,” Aud said.

He agreed to talk about much of his lifelong work on one upfront condition from Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.”

He casts his Biblical crowns humbly before the one he serves, as Scripture suggests.

“My life’s mission is to glorify God and share the light of Jesus Christ with others,” he said.

It has been so since he became the part-time, teen pastor of a rural, 15-member Missouri church for $20 per week. And he just recently completed a celebratory jubilee year in 2021 that included a four-month sabbatical, including travel through 22 states. The Rev. Robert Vester, his Westside associate pastor since 2011, is now lead pastor, though Aud still will preach occasionally.

He cannot emphasize enough that he still is fully engaged in active ministry.

He considers leaving the comfort and stability of an established ministry post nearly 20 years ago at Columbus’ First United Methodist to establish Westside as one of his greatest steps of trusting Jesus. Karen, his wife of 47 years who acknowledged that she values security, feels the same. She was more than frightened initially over such a decision.

“But, eventually, I could see the puzzle fitting neatly together as God orchestrated all the circumstances,” she said.

The clergyman finds motivation beyond the spiritual. On the wall behind his desk is framed photo of his father, Carl Aud, a World War II machine gunner, and his ribbons and medals. Maybe that’s why the pastor hardly mentions ministry’s sacrifice.

While he and wife Karen’s children were growing, they all served in ministry in some capacity, including playing piano, guitar, drums, and singing while leading worship.

“One fellow jokingly referred to our family as the Von Trapps,” he said with a chuckle. “Our kids were very happily involved.”

Just since the pandemic began, Aud has preached from the bed of a truck in the church parking lot and over a radio frequency as members listened in their vehicles. Clearly, he is committed to the message of God’s love by whatever method it can be delivered.

That includes added roles such as serving as a chaplain for the Indiana State Police or on the board of Our Hospice of South Central Indiana. In order to be honest and authentic, he acknowledges some vulnerable periods of struggle and spiritual dryness through the years.

“You trust that the rain will come again,” Aud said.

For now, he is excited — and eager to see the watering of the new seeds of ministry.