James Conley grew up on a farm in Kansas. He graduated from Kansas State University in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in agriculture.
He had a career in agriculture banking for eight years. That career led him to Chanute, Kan., the home town of his future wife, Vicki Starr. James and Vicki were married in 1988.
James had grown up in a family active in church. While at Kansas State he became active in Baptist Student Union, which led him to seek a stronger commitment to live his faith as a disciple of Christ. He felt the need to serve at some leadership level in the church.
In 1991, eight years after he had graduated college, he resigned his position in agriculture banking and returned to study at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas, graduating in 1994.
During his senior year in seminary, James was student pastor for Welborn Community Church in Kansas.
James and Vicki visited Israel in the summer of 1994.
They were in Colorado in August 1994, traveling on
I-70, on their way to Delta where James was to meet with the members of Delta First Baptist Church as a candidate for their open pastor position. They took the Clifton turnoff and proceeded on to Delta along Highway 50.
"It looks like Israel," James said.
The then-two-lane Hwy. 50 reminded them of Israel. The Gunnison River reminded them of the Jordan River. The Uncompahgre Plateau reminded them of the West Bank in Israel. "Are we coming to our 'promised land'?" they asked each other.
In October 1994 Delta First Baptist Church called the Conleys to that "promised land," calling James to be their pastor.
Pastor James, as most people in the Delta and Delta County area call him, continues today as pastor of Delta First Baptist Church and a member and leader in our community.
Vicki and James have three children: Stephanie, Thaddeus and Abby.
Stephanie graduated from Kansas State in 2014. She works for Colorado State University Extension Office out of Montrose.
Stephanie was Delta County Fair and Rodeo Princess for 2006-2007.
Thaddeus attends Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, where he is studying youth ministry. He is a leader in Wyldlife with middle school students in the Young Life Program.
Thaddeus serves as worship leader at Delta First Baptist some Sundays and as a leader in church camp.
Abby graduated high school in 2015. She will be attending Lamar Community College this fall. Abby is all about horses, her dad says, and she will study horse management and training at LCC.
Abby was 2014-2015 Delta County Fair and Rodeo Queen.
Pastor James says the congregation at Delta First Baptist is a good mix from the generational perspective.
Sunday dress is casual. Pastor James says he wears a tie on the first Sunday of the month, Communion Sundays, and for weddings and funerals.
The sanctuary has seating capacity for 300 but the average attendance is 150.
During Sunday worship, in addition to the sermon, there is a mix of hymns, accompanied by a pianist, and contemporary songs led by praise teams with guitars.
Pastor James notes that on Sunday, July 31, there will be an all traditional worship service with traditional hymns.
In the spring of 2012 several Karen refugee families from Burma (also known as Myanmar) were resettled in Delta. Many of the Karen are Baptist Christians. The American Baptist denomination has had a missionary presence in Burma since 1812.
Pastor James, Delta First Baptist members, and volunteers from the school district and Delta community were instrumental in assuring their resettlement was successful. They held English language sessions for students; took children to doctors for the health exams necessary for entering Delta schools; and provided other assistance to help the Karen people adjust to their new home.
Many of the Karen people attend and participate in the programs at Delta First Baptist, including the main Sunday morning worship service.
A second worship service, Karen Baptist Fellowship, is held in the library -- the "upper room" -- by the Karen people in the Karen language. Pastor James attends that service but does not lead it.
There are multiple programs available at Delta First Baptist, programs for all ages.
"We will have Vacation Bible School next week for our church and we are encouraging our youth to invite their friends," Pastor James said.
"Once a month our SAMS Club (50 years and older) meets, with the focus on connecting people and building relationships. In July we had pizza and homemade ice cream in the picnic pavilion and played games.
"Last year we started a program for the 'under 30 crowd,' people out of high school and older, people who are likely to become part of the community. They meet at the church for fellowship and Bible study. We want to reach out and involve this group," he said.
Pastor James continued, "We have Sunday school. We offer the AWANA program during the school year where we teach God's word and encourage the children to memorize Bible verses. On Wednesdays, we have AWANA for children up to 6th grade and on Sundays for 7th to 12th graders. We plan AWANA games for students up to high school."
"Mystery Trip" is a program for middle school students. The students go on a mystery mission trip and have food treats also. They have helped others ride horses in the Horse Country Arena, visited CAWS and played with the animals, visited Paonia Care and Rehabilitation Center and read "Alice in Bibleland" to residents, helped a teacher who was moving to Wyoming pack the truck, and have taken a trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison to eat lunch and enjoy God's creation.
Delta First Baptist will launch a restart of its youth ministry in the fall.
The church has wonderful facilities which the community uses as well as the congregation. Among other groups, the gym/fellowship hall is used by basketball and volleyball groups; MOPS, preschool moms; VFW meetings; weddings, family reunions, class reunions; by the school district as a facility for testing; the Vision program; DHS students; and Classical Conversations homeschool group for music, rhyme, literature and other classics learning.
Pastor James is a strong supporter of interdenominational programs.
He says, "There were 350 people participating in the worship service at Riley Pavilion in Cleland Park Sunday during Deltarado Days.
"We have held the National Day of Prayer service on the first Thursday of May at the county courthouse since 1995. We pray for our president, the nation, our schools, businesses and economies, our military, our local governments, the media.
"It draws the community together, not just the spiritual leaders, but business people and teachers, county and city government leaders and residents of the county from all walks."
Pastor James paused. "I am the pastor of First Baptist Church, but I am also a spiritual leader in the city of Delta and Delta County.
"We have good working relationships among the spiritual leaders, and God wants us to bridge divides. We need to show we are united, and not just on the surface as in the past."