Written by Rev. Barbara Ruth
In 1973, John Wright left “the Great State of Kentucky” for the Wild West of Dallas, Texas. He was the first member of seven generations of the Wright family to move from Taylor County, but John had decided to buck tradition among Kentucky pastors and attend seminary at Perkins School of Theology, SMU. This decision changed his life forever.
In 1975, John came to Austin for the first time to serve as a seminary intern at First UMC. Jack Heacock, who was the young and energetic senior pastor, was unlike any pastor John had known at home, encouraging church members to engage with the community and the world— which they did! His internship became significant in his formation as a pastor, even though the pull to return to Kentucky was strong. His parents visited him once and expressed that they hoped he didn’t have to stay much longer in this barren state with its small rivers and short trees.
In 1976, John married Barbara Ruth, a minister in the Southwest Texas Conference. Before their wedding, they attended John’s home Conference in Kentucky. John asked the most liberal pastor he knew what it might be like for them to serve as a clergy couple. He replied, “You’ll die a martyr’s death a thousand times!” John happily returned with Barbara to Southwest Texas Conference where he will have served for 30 years when he finally retires.
At Perkins, John demonstrated that he was gifted in theological and Biblical studies. He was encouraged to study for a Ph. D. in systematic theology, a goal which he pursued for several years. However, when a part-time appointment came open in Center Point, Texas, near Comfort where Barbara was serving, John returned to his first love—local church ministry.
Recently, John apologized to his mentor, Dr. Schubert Ogden, for not finishing his academic work, and Ogden said, “John you are an ecclesial theologian.” Indeed, John is a church theologian, rather than an academic one, bringing his gifts of Biblical interpretation and theological reflection to bear in his preaching, teaching and writing for the benefit of those blessed to be included in his ministry.
John’s appointments include Chapel Hill UMC, San Antonio, (on the edge of Lackland Air Force Base); Oak Hill UMC, Austin; Grace UMC, Corpus Christi, (where he enabled the church to relocate to new facilities on 20 acres); and returning full circle to First UMC, Austin.
Now, a new door in ministry has opened for John with his appointment as superintendent of the Hill Country District for two years before his retirement. He will live in Kerrville during the week, and Barbara will remain here in their homestead not far from their grandchildren. One thing is certain: wherever he is, John will retain his Kentucky roots as well as the lasting influence of this amazing church.