The Rev. Martha Wright served as an associate pastor at Jersey UMC and as minister of pastoral care at Ebenezer UMC in Conyers. She was chaplain at the Wesley Woods Retirement Center and at Grady Memorial Hospital. For the past eight years, Wright supervised and trained chaplains at the Gwinnett Medical Center.
"Whether I'm in a teaching setting with my students or in a hospital with the people entrusted to me or in my parish, I have always known that I am a pastor at heart," said Wright.
A native of Auburn, Ala., Wright graduated from Birmingham-Southern College and the Candler School of Theology. Married for five years to her husband Rick Hooks, they have three sons, Jonathon Hooks and Wright and Jack Dickerson.
Wright realizes not everyone is sold on the idea of women pastors and recently encountered a man in the church parking lot who chose not to make eye contact with her or shake her hand.
"People have perceptions about who can and can't be a minister," said Wright. "If I can get my foot in the door with somebody, eventually we are able to get past that. As women pastors, we come with a huge reservoir of ideas, energy and plans. I think there's a new feeling of excitement that a woman can bring to a parish because we're not afforded that opportunity very often."
As a former chaplain, Wright values hospitality as an evangelism tool. Prior to her first Sunday, she distributed her cards and introduced herself to the businesses in Mansfield. Wright mailed a handwritten personal note to each person in the congregation. As a result, their average attendance of 10 turned to 25 plus on Sunday morning.
During the morning service, she dedicates a portion called "meet the pastor" to answer any questions they may have. This past Sunday, the question was, "How did you get in the ministry?"
Wright replied, "In the 10th grade, I began to think I was called to work with the youth. During that time, women in ministry was a novelty. When I went to college, I thought that I wasn't called to be ordained, but rather to be a director of Christian education. I told my home pastor that I didn't think I was going to go to seminary. That may be the first time that I knew that God works in mysterious ways."
She continued saying her pastor confirmed that she had made the right decision because he didn't think women needed to go to seminary and learn about theology. Offended by his remark, but more determined than ever, she entered seminary.
However, her determination was weakened when one of her best friends at college was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died. It threw her into a faith crisis and again she questioned her purpose.
"One of my professors in my second year of seminary asked me to lead a small discussion group in my history of thought class," said Wright, who remembered feeling inadequate at the time. "My professor said that he was not asking me to do this because I had the right answers, but because he felt I asked really good questions.
"That is when it dawned on me that maybe there were people in the church who needed a pastor that didn't have the answers but could understood their questions and walk with them. That's when I knew I was definitely called into the parish ministry."
Wright praised Mansfield UMC for their long and rich history of being a very traditional, vibrant church. In the months ahead, she hopes the gifts and benefits of that history will translate into something that will attract new members. Wright plans to integrate a children's sermon during the Sunday morning service to involve young ones in worship and let them know they are needed and loved.
"In our society, we are all hungry for personal, intimate relationships," said the pastor. "One of the greatest needs of a traditional church is to get new blood and new people in. My hope and prayer is that I will be wise enough and we will be open enough to make that shift."
The women at Mansfield UMC offer fellowship through their sewing group and meet weekly to work on community projects for the homeless shelter. On weekends, they sponsor a farmer's market in the church parking lot for local growers.
Mansfield also welcomed a new pianist Andrew Hayes, and they are planning a candlelight dinner and piano concert the last Saturday in August.
Mansfield UMC is located at 3031 N. Main Street. Sunday school is offered at 9:45 a.m. followed by worship at 11 a.m. For more information, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.