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Answering the call to shepherd the shepherds

Answering the call to shepherd the shepherds

Editor's note: Today we continue our series of closer looks at new leadership in the Florida Conference. Next week, we will conclude the series with a profile of Rev. Rwth Fuquay, associate director in the Office of Clergy Excellence.

LAKELAND -- “You’re going to be in charge of the morale of the whole Florida Conference clergy.”

That’s how Rev. Dr. Wayne Wiatt has described what the bishop told him when he appointed Wiatt as the director of Clergy Excellence at the Florida Conference.

Wayne Wiatt headshot
Rev. Dr. Wayne Wiatt

That means “basically overseeing clergy well-being and welfare and ordination processes, visiting our seminaries and keeping up with all of our students and continuing education, and on and on,” said Wiatt, who has been settling into the role since July.

The Office of Clergy Excellence was created to carry out the goal of the Florida Conference’s mission to be “a vital connection that is a part of God’s transformation of the world by…calling, transforming and supporting…clergy leaders for the church.”

That involves everything from keeping track of candidate paperwork to supporting spiritual formation and assisting in discernment of calling for the dozens of seminary students and hundreds of ordained clergy.

It’s a tall order but one that is ideally suited for Wiatt, said Rev. Jorge Acevedo, lead pastor of Grace Church in Cape Coral and a 22-year member of a covenant group with Wiatt.

“Wayne is gifted with a great pastor’s heart. He exudes love and kindness, everything you think a shepherd should.”

Wiatt’s lifelong faith and vast experience as a local pastor, coupled with the innate nurturing skills of a shepherd, make him supportive of established clergy while encouraging and affirming the gifts and calls of clergy candidates, Acevedo said.

Wiatt’s official biography notes that he was on the "cradle roll" at Cherry Lake UMC in Madison, where he grew up. He has a bachelor’s degree in music, a Master of Divinity degree and doctorate in ministry from Emory University in Atlanta. During seminary, he served as youth director at Glenn Memorial UMC on the Emory campus and worked closely with Dr. Carlton R. Young, editor of the United Methodist Hymnal.

Since 1984, he has served local churches from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and down to the Palm Coast until being appointed superintendent for the East Central District in 2006. In addition to leadership roles in many community service organizations, he serves on the boards of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach and the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home in Enterprise.

Rev. Dr. Wayne Wiatt was part of a district-wide community service effort, SundayServe, when he was East Central District superintendent. 2012 file photo.

Wiatt’s new responsibilities involve more nationwide travel, as he attends training and visits seminaries around the country. It is a challenge that appeals to Wiatt, who acknowledged that even as a child he had trouble sitting still. 

“I’m learning to balance my travel schedule with office work,” he said.  Such balance is necessary, as he has been discovering how to fill the shoes of his predecessor, Rev. David Dodge, while also striving to vision how the office can be cutting-edge when it comes to the needs of clergy.

Among his goals are to promote “a culture of call” among Methodists through programs targeting students from elementary to high school “to introduce the concept of ministry as a vocation.”

At the same time, Wiatt and his staff are working to expand continuing education opportunities for existing clergy focusing on spiritual formation, preaching, leadership and rekindling the flame of community. The goal is to support Florida clergy in maintaining the spirit of their call to ministry while also providing them the tools to adapt to change and improve their effectiveness.

“Wayne has himself been an effective pastor leading a vital congregation, so he knows the upside and downside, the beauty and the mess of pastoral care,” Acevedo said.

“He has such unique pastoral gifts. If I ever end up [with a health crisis], he’s the one person I’d want at my bedside shepherding me through the crisis.”

Wiatt and his wife, Ramona, have two grown children, Matthew Wiatt and Taylor Stokes.

-- Colleen Hart is a freelance writer based in the Cocoa area.