My Spiritual/Ministry Story
I was a “cradle” United Methodist. I was baptized at my Mother’s home church as an infant (FUMC, Atlanta, Texas), confirmed at Lovers Lane UMC, and was a youth at FUMC, Richardson, Texas. Church was incredibly important to my formation as a youth and in college (UT, Austin) Although I studied journalism there, and enjoy writing to this day, I began to feel the call of God on my life as well. I took long walks around the campus, late at night, in prayer and meditation, wondering where God might be leading me.
As it happens, what I thought was a secret discerning was noticed by my campus minister, Claudia Highbaugh. Her mentoring helped lead me to ministry in the UMC. I entered Perkins, and found that my thirst and desire for ministry was confirmed with every class and ministry experience.
For my Perkins Internship, I intentionally chose to be sent to a world far from my usual experience. My life had always been the big city, but I spent that year in Mason, Texas … a small ranching community in the Texas Hill Country. I was deeply moved and formed by my year there, experiencing the simple beauty of rural life. It reminded me very much of my Mother’s East Texas roots. I was ordained in 1989.
After seminary, and because of my interest in campus ministry and young people, I was appointed to Highland Park UMC as Campus and Single Adult Minister. I was responsible for over 1,000 single adults and college students, who were touched by our programs. With them, I became increasingly drawn to “mission and outreach ministries,” and halfway through my ten-year tenure at Highland Park I moved into these ministries full time. I organized and co-led mission teams to places around the globe and close to home: Russia (nine times), Haiti (five times), to name a few. We built 10 Habitat for Humanity homes, and a 5,000 square foot community center in the South Dallas neighborhood of Bon Ton. We started reading programs with kids at local elementary schools. I preached at an 11:00 a.m. Chapel service that averaged 175 weekly worshippers.
Being involved in the community, through Christian service, has always been deeply important to me. I believe it is one the high callings of the Church to serve not only with our heart and soul, but also with our hands and feet. In 2001, I was appointed to be Senior Pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas and have served there seventeen years. Northaven’s “Welcome Statement,” written in the mid 1990s, says: “Because we believe Jesus Christ has broken down the walls that divide us, we seek to welcome people of all ages, races, sexual orientations, and economic circumstances.” Diversity is a core value of Northaven and has been since well before my time there.
During the first third of my tenure there we built and moved into an entirely new $3.5 million dollar sanctuary and church facility, double the size of our original physical plant. During the second third of my tenure, we experienced dramatic growth in membership and activity, not seen at the church since the 1950s. We had multiple-years of 50-plus new member growth and worship attendance climbed by 20 percent. During the final third of my time there, we’ve wrestled with a demographically changing city/neighborhood and an aging congregation, and it’s been my honor to provide pastoral care to these beautiful people.
It’s been one of the great honors of my life to love, serve, and accompany the people of that congregation through many phases of their life.
Outside of church, I am a musician who plays and writes my own music (“singer-songwriter”) in clubs and coffeehouses, and I co-lead a band called “Connections.” We are a band led by United Methodist Ministers, who play 1960-70s classic rock, and raise money for United Methodist charities. We’ve raised more than $330,000 dollars in almost 60 free concerts. I’m a writer, blogger, and avid cyclist.
What People Say about Me
I find it very hard to tell you about myself by saying, “I am this way…” So, instead, I will tell you what people consistently say about my ministry.
People say I have a caring pastoral presence. I find it a high honor to sit with people at the hospital, and to hold the hands of a family as their loved one dies. Being pastoral to the members of my flock is my greatest and most important calling, and I never lose sight of this.
People say I use humor unusually well. I tend to tell self-deprecating stories about myself, and I find it tends to disarm others when I do so. I readily admit my flaws and tend to speak honestly in ways that, I believe, build trust in others. Frankly, over my life, I have found that I distrust people who cannot laugh at themselves, or who see themselves as better than others, and I find that the ability to have a sense of humor is deeply essential to spiritual maturity.
People say that I have a passion for leading the church to be involved in the community. We are God’s heart and soul as the gathered church, but we are God’s hands and feet in the community. And I have found that many people, especially the young, are attracted to church as much by what the church does in the world as what it says from the pulpit.
Finally, although I am a middle-aged White guy, people say I have a unique ability to empathize with, and “accompany” people who are quite different from me. This has been repeatedly formed by my ministry and life experiences. My aforementioned campus minister, Claudia Highbaugh, is African-American. So, I live every day with the knowledge that, if not for her ministry, I would not likely be in ministry today. My wife, Dennise Garcia, is a beautiful, strong, and incredibly wise Latina woman from South Irving. She serves as an elected State District Judge in Dallas County Family Courts. It’s one of the great honors of my life to support and advocate for her and for her career, which she sees as her own ministry. Over the 25 years of our marriage, I have been able, in ways that have been deeply life-shaping, to see the world through both her eyes and the eyes of her family. To hear and experience what is it like to be a person of color — to love them as your family — changes and greatly deepens how you see God’s family. It has made me passionate for an inclusive church that welcomes and serves all God’s children.
I believe Jesus when he says that the Greatest Commandment is to love God, Neighbor and Self. We are constantly called to do all three, and to move between all three.
We love God … through our connection to the Church, through worship, study, prayer, and personal growth.
We love our neighbor … through overcoming our built-in human fear to distrust “the stranger.” Jesus constantly urged the people of his day to reach out to those who were different, and to see them as “the neighbor,” not as strangers or threats. Far too much in our world, we tend to “otherize” those we do not understand. But God calls us to ministry to and with them, to stand alongside of them(“accompany” them), rather than to lord over them. The more diverse our Church community is, the easier and better we can do this work in the world.
Finally, we must love ourselves … which means we must care for our bodies, our spirits, our souls. We must find ways to quiet the voices of self-doubt that tell us we are unworthy, so that we can hear God’s accepting and embracing voice. We must learn to be as compassionate with ourselves as we are to others.
And we must know and understand that it all begins and ends with God’s grace. It is God who gives us far more grace than we ever realize we have to begin with. It is God’s grace that nudges us to be the Church in the world. And it is God who graciously loves and forgives us in the many times we will fall short of our best intentions.