Four years ago, Martin Leathers was ready for his next step. He was working at a small Methodist church in South Carolina, and he was prepared to move on to the next thing, which he thought was going to be D.C. After praying about it (a dangerous endeavor as he describes it), Martin found himself in Texas — a place he wasn’t prepared for. “I never had any desire to live in Texas,” Martin recalls. “The one place me and Jesus made this deal I would never go is the one place that I wound up.”
When he first started working at FUMCFW as our Associate Director of Youth Ministries, he says that he was definitely in unfamiliar territory. Then he was welcomed with what he calls “Texas-sized open arms” to be a part of our church family. “It’s been awesome to be surrounded by co-workers and parents and teenagers and friends who have taught me what it means to be in ministry, and have helped me get a bigger picture of what God is like,” Martin describes. “It has been a wild ride and a joy every day.” Through all the laughter and tears and celebrating, this place has become Martin’s home — and, he says, it has captured his heart, quite by surprise.
A year into his ministry here, Martin started attending Brite Divinity School, and this May he will graduate with a Master of Divinity degree. With graduation approaching, Martin says that he tackled danger again and started praying about his next step. Feeling a calling to lead a youth ministry, he came across a growing church called The Gathering UMC in St. Louis, Missouri. One thing led to another, and Martin has now accepted the offer to step in as The Gathering’s new Director of Student Ministry. Since The Gathering is a new church, Martin sees this as a big opportunity. “This church is getting off the ground and growing by leaps and bounds, and it is trying to figure out what to do with youth and teenagers,” Martin says. “So we’re starting things up from scratch, and it’s an opportunity to pray and make changes in teenagers’ lives and make mistakes and dream God-sized dreams.”
Martin says that his own “God-sized dream” is to create something new for teenagers that is rooted in discipleship — and to help them discover themselves and God’s plans for them along the way. Based on his work here, Martin’s dream is likely to come true. Senior Pastor Dr. Tim Bruster says that Martin has not only been a blessing to the youth of our church, but has blessed the whole congregation with his preaching and teaching. Dr. Bruster explains that, as a church, we have had the opportunity through the years of being a place where people new to pastoral ministry can learn and grow. “I have experienced this as much more than a one-way relationship, however,” he adds. “Those who have learned and grown in their ministries here with us have also been our teachers. Martin has likewise been both student and teacher among us.”
Andrew Mochrie, Director of Youth Ministries, describes Martin’s faith as fun-loving and whimsical — bringing a childlike energy not only to the youth ministry but to the church as a whole. As Andrew puts it, “His vibrant faith is seen in the way he serves, and his love for teenagers and the development of their faith is seen in how passionately he advocates for them and tells their stories to the congregation.”
As Martin looks forward to his next big step in life, he says that he realizes how difficult it will be to say goodbye to FUMCFW. “Home is where your heart is, and this place and church and people have stolen my heart, so the idea of leaving is heartbreaking even as I’m filled with excitement about this new opportunity,” Martin declares. “I have loved being a part of this family, and I will miss everyone who has let me be a part of their life and asked to be part of mine. I will cherish every memory that I’ve gotten to make — and all the fingerprints you’ve left on my heart and my life.”
Martin says that the greatest joy of his time here has been getting to know the kids and their families — and experiencing life together. “Every day has been a different adventure, and there’s not a single one of them that I don’t look back on with smiles,” Martin reminisces. One particular experience that stands out to him is Camp Barnabas. “It has been really neat to see the ways that God captures our teenagers’ imaginations at Camp Barnabas,” Martin adds. “It’s interesting when you get to the end of something to realize what your legacy is, and it’s been funny that people have come to associate my time here with Camp Barnabas.”
However, Martin has left a much bigger legacy at FUMCFW than he realizes. From one-on-one breakfasts before school to cheering them on at Friday night football games, Martin has been there for our youth every step of the way. “Our teenagers are going to miss the relationship they’ve built with Martin and his ability to make all feel welcomed, heard, and loved,” Andrew declares. And on a personal level, Andrew says that he is going to miss Martin’s dependability and partnership in ministry. “Martin does all things and everything well that is asked of him, and is an incredible team player,” Andrew explains. “Plus, he makes for such a fun work environment.”
Dr. Bruster even dubs Martin our unofficial “minister of fun” — on top of being such a valuable member of our staff. It seems that, one way or another, he makes faith and fun contagious. “We have all benefited from Martin’s deep love of Christ, his commitment to ministry to youth, his quirky, wonderful sense of humor, and his considerable giftedness!” Dr. Bruster exclaims. And Rev. Linda McDermott, Senior Associate Pastor & Associate Pastor of Worship, adds, “Martin is an absolute delight! He is playful, witty, humble, and a truly gentle soul. We are going to miss him.”
From Texas-sized open arms to God-sized dreams, Martin clearly has places to go and people to see. He will graduate on May 7, and then his last day at FUMCFW will be on May 8. Although we will miss him here, we are grateful for the impact Martin has had on our youth, and we wish him all the best on his next big adventure. This coming Sunday, April 3, Martin will be preaching in the traditional services at 9:40 am in the Chapel and 11:00 am in the Sanctuary. Please join us to hear Martin’s sermon which, fittingly, is about what’s next now that Easter is over. Then let’s all open our arms once again to offer Martin a First Church-sized farewell.