The Commercial Appeal
Matheny retiring as pastor of whole city
I met Mark Matheny when I was a senior ministerial student at Lambuth College. He was the associate pastor at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Memphis and was supervising a college friend of mine in a program called VIP (vocational intern program).
A few years later he was my supervisor, and he became a lifelong mentor and friend. He was, without doubt, the best neighborhood pastor I had seen. He may well be the best I have seen in the nearly 40 years since.
Mark knew t he people running the boarding homes as well as the mostly margi n a l - ized folks living in those homes. He picked up neighborhood kids and helped them recycle newspapers to earn extra cash. He formed these innercity kids into sports teams and helped found Camp Py Co Me in Shelby Forest to give them an experience of life outside the city.
He also coached and played on teams for some of us older “kids,” mixing young-adult members of the church with those from the neighborhood Mark Matheny
who were still suspicious of church.
Along with the senior pastor, Frank McRae, he initiated “The Friendship Center,” a place of refuge for the large numbers of people with mental health disabilities who had been released from mental health centers with little preparation for re-entering society.
To this day, what makes Mark Matheny, who is retiring after 41 years of ordained ministry in Memphis, so rare is his ability to connect with folks on the street and in the pews with equal giftedness, passion and energy.
Over the years, Mark served as director of the United Methodist Neighborhood Centers and pastor of Madison Heights, Trinity, Asbury and St. Luke’s United Methodist churches. He also served as the district superintendent of the Memphis McKendree District.
I list those appointments because all of them are in Memphis. To say the least, that is very rare for a Methodist preacher. But in Mark’s case, it simply made sense. The city of Memphis is Mark’s parish. Mark was even in the first class of Leadership Memphis.
Of course, Mark, now 66, has had a lot of fun along the way. Some of us will tell stories about Matheny’s one-handed set shot from the three-point line. Others will rave about his taking a charge on defense in our clergy basketball games. Many will tell about his duets and quartets and musicals, while still others will tell about his practical jokes and endless sense of humor. All who really know him will agree that his “angle of vision” is unique and, again, fun.
Most of us chuckle at the idea of Mark Matheny “retiring” after this Sunday’s service at St. Luke’s church, which he has served for the past eight years.
What will he do with all that legendary Matheny energy? What will happen to that nonstop imagination that makes its way onto paper napkins as epic poems and raps at banquets, coffee shops and church meetings? How will Mark channel the servant, which for him has never been about doing more work, but simply about being the very particular child of God he is?
We chuckle nervously, I suspect, because we know that Mark is three steps ahead of us, and will probably draw a few of us into two of those. But mostly we look forward to whatever is next. We know it will be extraordinary. And we know it will be filled with boundless energy and great soul.
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 488 S. Highland, celebrates Mark’s ministry at 2 p.m. Sunday. Rev. William M. Vaughan III is a United Methodist minister and director of the Formation for Ministry Program at Memphis Theological Seminary.