A history & a vision

First United Methodist Senior Pastor Jarrell Sharp has a respect for the long history of his congregation and a vision for the church’s future. DAILY RECORD PHOTO BY RACHEL WILLIS

First United Methodist Church

Editor’s note: This is the second part in a series profiling San Marcos’ diverse religious leaders and what they bring to the community.

I began this interview as I usually do, as I said to Jarrell Sharp, Senior Pastor of perhaps San Marcos’ most historic standing church, First United Methodist, “Tell me about yourself.”

“I’m a West Texas boy, born and raised around Abilene. Never lived in Abilene, but grew up in the area. I’m married to Maureen and we have two children. Our son Christopher lives in Omaha, Nebraska. Our daughter is in a masters degree program in psychology at the University of Texas, Arlington,” Sharp responded.

“We also have two sort of adopted kids, Martin and Dorothy are exchange students who came to live with us when our own kids were in high school. Martin came in 2005-2006; Dorothy came about 2011-2012. Martin came to us from Krefeld, Germany, and now lives in Bonn. Dorothy is from a village near Hanover.”

Sharp added that he and Maureen met at Southwestern University, right up the road in Georgetown, when they were students.

“We have been in San Marcos a little over two years,” he continued. “We came here in June 2015. The longest I’ve ever lived anywhere is seven years. That ended with my sophomore year in high school. Since that time, I have bounced around here, there and elsewhere.”

Sharp’s father was also a Methodist minister or as he put it, “I’m one of those terrible preacher’s kids.”

Most of his family – his parents, his sister and her children – all live in Denton. They are engaged in education at North Texas State University. And, “Yes, I’m following in my father’s footsteps to some extent. While we both are Methodist ministers, we have never been in the same conference.”

Sharp’s first assignment was Seagraves, Texas, which is located in northwest Texas, but family situations – Maureen’s mother is 95 years old and lives in Austin and his family, of course, is in Denton – dictated a need to be reasonably close by.

Then Jarrell revealed another reason for his shifting conference assignments. “In that area when one of those blue northern blows in and the red dust hides the sun, visibility goes to about 10 feet. One day Maureen and I were on the road and she was driving when one of those things hit and she let it be known that this was not her favorite place in the world.”

“You and Maureen went to Southwestern in Georgetown. She was from nearby Austin, but you came from around Abilene, the home of McMurray University, a small but well known Methodist school. What prompted you to choose Southwestern?” I asked.

“I wanted to explore the world,” he responded. “My grandparents were in the habit of taking pictures of Texas courthouses and on one of their excursions, they visited and photographed some of the old buildings on the Southwestern campus.

“They were just beautiful,” Sharp said. “The beautiful stonework and the architecture, impressed me, a 12 to 14 year-old kid at the time to the point I simply decided this is where I’m going to college. And so, I did.”

That might help to explain the fervor, enthusiasm and dedication of Sharp to the latest project of his current ministry. The First United Methodist Church has taken on the challenge to raise an enormous sum of money to purchase the property next door, formerly occupied by the Frost Bank drive-through facility. The iconic building on Hutchison Street, which is home to the First United Methodist community, was built in 1893. It is the last of its genre in the United States.

To preserve this building, and the integrity of the congregation, a parking lot is desperately needed. The history of First Methodist pre-dates the history of San Marcos and while Sharp and family would be considered relative newcomers to the city, they have immersed themselves in that history with a unique reverence for San Marcos, but with a special reverence for the historic landmark at 129 W. Hutchison Street.

Sharp, a 59-year-old man of the cloth, is also a man of determination. His fearless approach to this daunting undertaking is inspiring confidence in the Methodist community as they understand the gravity of this undertaking and its importance to the city of San Marcos.

I pointed out that the ministry is a difficult balancing act and hardly a get-rich-quick profession, so “were you influenced to follow your father’s path?”

“I grew up with no plans to become a minister,” Sharp responded. “My desire was to teach history at a university and at the graduate level when I went away to Southwestern University. My father was a district superintendent – an assistant to the bishop – and my plans were definitely to be a professor of history. But when I came home for the summer, I found myself a student pastor at Margaret and Thalia, two tiny Methodist churches in northwest Texas. They were near Crowell and Vernon, which might take some explaining to locate.”

So, what did influence Sharp to go into the ministry?

“I know it sounds rather cheesy, but I was called by God,” Sharp said. “I found in those two little churches a warm and welcoming place. The church in Margaret was the most loving, caring place I could imagine. They absolutely took me into their heart.

“I knew nothing,” Sharp said. “I had preached one time in my father’s church on youth day. Well, the people of Margaret, just loved on me, and they kept telling me, ‘you’re doing good son, you’re just fine,’ and they did it with such love. Now Margaret and Thalia appear to be no more than 10 miles apart, but apparently have different personalities. Now Thalia, was cold. So, I experienced some of both sides of the ministry. But I came to realize I had some skills the church could use and I truly felt the call of God on my life.”

Sharp is a practical man, but a spiritual soul who seems to balance his deep faith with the realization that there is “real” world out there. His faith seems to lead him to a deep devotion to Christian teachings and he is gifted in sharing that belief and faith with his congregation. On the other hand, he is an effective manager, administrator and leader who shows no trepidation in taking on the task of keeping First United Methodist as the religious flagship of San Marcos.

As Sharp puts it ”My father and I are alike in so many ways, but different in an equal number of attributes. That is one of the beauties of the ministry. You find your own way. There is the freedom to be different, the opportunity to create.”

I suggested that freedom and efforts at creativity and change can be can be a trip wire as well as a launching pad.

“I have been very fortunate,” Sharp responded. “The district superintendent will usually get involved only when things are not going well, and so far, I have enjoyed great relationships with whomever held the superintendent position. And that is true also of the bishops for whom I have worked.”

Sharp came to San Marcos from Victoria, which, though still in Texas, is a long way from Seagraves, Margaret or Thalia. It is also more populous. I asked how he got to Victoria.

“The bishop appointed me to that church. We, not unlike the military, are assigned to a church, or an administrative position, or some other position by the bishop who heads the conference,” Sharp said. “We serve in that position at the pleasure of the bishop and the length of time in a position may vary significantly.”

Sharp’s appointment to San Marcos followed appointments to Seagraves, Laurel Heights, Beeville, Bandera, McAllen, Fredericksburg, and six years in Victoria. So, First United Methodist of San Marcos is not his first rodeo. One might wonder if he has trouble holding a job. In truth, it is part of being a Methodist minister.

“After two years, give me your reaction to San Marcos,” I queried.

“Don’t tell my bishop, but I hope that I can remain in San Marcos until I retire,” Sharp responded. “We love San Marcos. It is our first university town. We enjoy the energy of San Marcos – the restaurants, the arts, the music – and the congregation of First United Methodist is very, very special. I really enjoy my ministry here with the oldest congregation in Hays County. It predates San Marcos, but there is a sense of looking forward. While we venerate the historic past of First Methodist, we are looking to the future and applying energy, knowledge and other resources to our growth, and our services to the community.”

Indicative of Sharp’s vision and energy, he sees an expansion in the church’s future.

“I believe it is time we seriously consider the establishment of another Methodist church in San Marcos,” Sharp said. “I am told that there is a significant portion of the population east of I-35. There is no Methodist church from I-35 to Martindale.”

With that response, I asked for his vision for the “oldest congregation in Hays County.”

“First, I think we need to be more engaged with the University,” Sharp said. “While I know we have a long history with Texas State, we really haven’t done a very good job in the past few years. We need to look beyond our work with the students and be engaged with the faculty and staff – the whole of the university. We need to be engaged with the downtown community. Here we sit, the single most recognizable religious entity of downtown, so how are we engaging with the business community, the Hays County government and the city for the betterment of our community.”

Space precludes me from including the short sermon I received when I queried Sharp about how we achieve these admirable goals. Suffice to say, there is an energy stirring at 129 W. Hutchison Street. It is driven by passion and it bodes well for First Methodist, for San Marcos and for Hays County.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666