An Open Letter to First UMC

by Rev. John McLarty, in The First Word, March 15, 2017

Dear First United Methodist Church Family-

Jesus once said that the only place a prophet had no honor was in his own hometown. I can only hope this was not the logic of our Bishop, Mike McKee, as he considered the appointment of your next Senior Minister!

Jokes aside, Jennifer and I are excited about returning to Wichita Falls, a place that we think of as home, and to First United Methodist Church, a congregation that has been a big part of my personal faith story. My family lived here on two separate occasions when I was a teenager. I was confirmed at First UMC and graduated from Rider High School. After college at Stephen F. Austin, my new bride Jennifer and I made our home in Wichita Falls for the first six years of our marriage. (We will celebrate 23 years in June!)

As you might have read in the e-mail announcement, I joined the staff of First UMC in 1995 as Youth Director, later Associate Pastor for Youth Ministries, while I commuted to Texas Christian University to study for my Masters of Divinity. I served in this role for nearly five years before being appointed as pastor to the Holliday/Dundee Charge in 2000. In 2002, I was appointed to Trietsch Memorial UMC in Flower Mound to begin work on a new church start and from 2003-2013, I served as the Founding Pastor of Faith UMC in Denton. For past four years I have been the Senior Pastor of Stonebridge UMC, a large-membership congregation in McKinney.

Jennifer and I have three children. Our oldest, Noah, who was baptized at First UMC, is currently in his first year of college at Midwestern State. He has accused us of stalking him by following him to his college. Our daughter Jordan is a junior at McKinney North High School where she plays soccer and percussion in the marching band.  Our youngest son, Nathan, is a sixth-grader who enjoys baseball, running, jumping on the trampoline, and anything with a screen. For the past 18 months, we have shared our home with Jennifer’s octogenarian parents, who we will be bringing with us. We also have an energetic four-year old Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix.

We are excited about reacquainting ourselves with the Wichita Falls community and planting roots here for years to come. I believe that there are wonderful opportunities here for our church to introduce people to the love and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to participate in making God’s Kingdom on earth a reality as it is in heaven. Much has changed in the 17 years since we last left Wichita Falls. There is much more gray in my hair than I like to count. There have also been life-changing experiences. Many things may be different, but the primary work is the same. Our calling is to reach new people for the sake of Christ, in the hopes that the story of Christ that we hold so dear could be the defining story in someone else’s life.

I have spent the past 17 years devoted to this task. The congregations in Holliday and Dundee proved that it was possible to reach new people and grow the church even in a small community. The new congregation that we helped plant in Denton showed me the power of what happens when people are inspired to use their gifts to serve God’s kingdom. The large-suburban church where I currently serve is demonstrating that powerful transformation happens when we learn to surrender our own will to God’s will and allow God’s Spirit to lead us.

My prayer and request over the next 100 days of this transition is that you will keep doing the work of a disciple. Participate regularly in worship, read Scripture daily, pray for wisdom and understanding, contribute generously with your time, talent, and treasures, serve where you are able, and talk to others about your faith and your church. I will be ready to hit the ground running when we arrive in the Falls. Like two runners passing a baton in a relay race, I hope that we will be able to transition at full speed.

Jennifer and I look forward to being with you all very soon. I pray God’s blessings for you and our churches during this time, for Paul and Maggie Goodrich on their retirements, and for the community that we call home.

With love, joy, and anticipation to serve as your pastor-

Rev. John McLarty