Gainesville First United Methodist Church is losing two of its longtime clergy in the coming weeks to promotions within the church conference. And while there are sure to be a few tears shed, it’s the start of a new journey.
A journey for outgoing Revs. Terry Walton and Wendy Cordova, a journey for the new clergy and a journey for the church.
“Faith is a journey. My two favorite words are journey and adventure, and I think whenever life stops being an adventure we’re in trouble of getting bitter,” Walton said. “Faith is a journey. It’s something we’re all in, some of us are at one point, some of us are at another. No point is more important than the other and we help each other along that journey.”
Walton has been serving as senior pastor at GFUMC for 12 years. Cordova, an associate pastor, has been there for nine years. Walton has been promoted to district superintendent of the Atlanta-Marietta District. Cordova is moving to Loganville to serve as pastor at The Orchard United Methodist Church.
“The tricky part this time of year for United Methodist clergy, for those of us moving, is that we’re trying to say goodbye and hello at the same time,” Cordova said. “We’re trying to wrap up our responsibilities here and do that with integrity so when the new person comes there’s not a gap — and we’re grieving and having to say goodbye to people we love.”
Cordova has already talked to her new church and said she feels as if she has one foot in one world and the other in the next.
“The church is having to do the same thing, say goodbye and at the same time prepare to welcome these new people,” she said. “It’s an interesting time.”
Toni Foudy is one of several congregants who will miss the pastors.
She began attending GFUMC in 2013 when she relocated from Florida. After looking into several other churches, she tried Gainesville First UMC because the traditional service reminded her of a church she went to as a child. But it was ultimately Walton’s preaching that left an impact on her.
“Because of his style of preaching, I was really able to get to know him,” she said. “He would always give personal examples and I loved that.”
Foudy said she will miss his teachings and his children’s moments. He calls the children to the front of the church and teaches them a Bible story using various puppets and voices.
Foudy’s son Kenny also developed a relationship with Walton and saw him as a role model.
“I’m going to miss him because he was funny and kind,” Kenny said.
Kenny plays for the Gainesville Braves 8U baseball team and serves as the team chaplain.
“When Kenny is leading the team in prayer, he will use Pastor Terry as inspiration with how to pray,” Toni said.
Walton is a devout Atlanta Braves fan and mentions baseball frequently in his sermons — a reason Toni thinks is why her son is especially drawn to him.
However, at his new post Walton will not be serving one specific congregation. His new duties will entail being responsible for 48 churches and their clergy and staff. He will spend time encouraging, mentoring and teaching clergy and staff but knows he’ll spend time doing administrative work, too.
“I don’t want this to be taken the wrong way, but it’s not really something I aspired to do,” he said. “But it’s a compliment to be asked by the bishop to serve on his cabinet. I know I’m going to miss preaching. I know I’m going to miss the pastoring part of the congregation ... I’m going to miss that connection to the local congregation.”
Cordova’s new position will be at The Orchard UMC in Loganville. The church is 14 years old, making her its third pastor and first female minister. Her duties will be similar to her responsibilities at the Gainesville church, which include preaching, conducting a contemporary service and pastoral care. New duties are caring for and leading a staff and helping the church to grow in the direction God is leading them.
“I’m excited about building a culture within the staff and empowering them to grow and deepen their faith and make an impact on their community,” she said.
Walton and Cordova will leave with fond memories of their years spent at GFUMC.
Cordova recalled a time when a church member’s father was dying and she visited the family several times. About a week or so before he died, Cordova received a call saying he’d like to be baptized. She honored his request, describing the experience as a very special, meaningful precious moment.
“That popped out to me just because doing what I do you have the opportunity to get to be a part of people’s lives in sort of a very sacred way, so I have a lot of memories like that,” she said.
Being a part of the church and community has seemed like being part of a family for Cordova and her daughter.
“Probably one of the things I’ll be most grateful for with my experience with this church, we started when (daughter) Iliana was 2 and she’s grown up here,” she said. “This is the only church she’s ever remembered and knows. She just has had a church of aunts and uncles and friends. It’s just been a very special place to her and what’s been poured into her.”
When asked what they would miss most about Gainesville, both pastors mentioned the personal relationships and sense of community.
“I will miss that community feel, it’s kind of neat,” Walton said.
“While I’m the pastor of this church, it’s almost like you have a role in the community too,” he said adding he does a lot with people from other churches.
“So when you’re in those roles in a community like this ... you connect beyond your church. I have folks who I consider to be very close friends because of our roles out there.”
Cordova said she feels she’s received far more from the community than she gave.
“One of the things that I’ve loved about Gainesville is being a part the community,” she said. “Walking to school and seeing people who go to our church or don’t go to our church or going into Publix and running into all kinds of people you know. I’ll miss walking out of my house and knowing all the neighbors around me and just feeling like I’m part of something that’s bigger than us.”
Slated to fill the voids left by Walton and Cordova are the Rev. Scott Hearn and Jamey Prickett. Hearn will be the new senior pastor while Prickett will become a new associate pastor. Hearn comes to Gainesville from Grayson UMC in Gwinnett County. Prickett comes from Liberty Hill UMC in Canton.
“I’m very tickled about the two pastors that are going to follow us here,” Walton said. “They are very capable, have wonderful track records. I mean they are just wonderful people.
“I know it’s going to feel a little topsy-turvy for the congregation for a few months, but I really think by mid-fall they’ll be in their groove and Terry and Wendy will be, hopefully, a fond memory.”
Walton’s last day at GFUMC is Sunday, May 22. Cordova’s is Sunday, June 5. The new clergy will begin preaching June 19.
“I’m going to shed some tears when I leave here, but I’m also invigorated for another opportunity. There’s room in your heart for both things. That’s part of the journey,” Walton said.