Curiosity led Centenary pastor to life in ministry

Sunday, August 26, 2012
The Rev. David Conley stands in front of the Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

The Rev. David Conley was named senior pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church this summer. A native of Cape Girardeau, Conley has been a pastor at several churches, including a few in Southeast Missouri.

In this week's Ministry Focus, Conley talks about why he entered the ministry and what opportunities for ministry Centenary offers.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: I am a native of Cape Girardeau, graduated from Cape Central and Southeast Missouri. I taught and coached for six years at St. Vincent High School in Perryville and then became education and youth director at First United Methodist Church in Sikeston. Following that, I attended St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City and returned to Cape Girardeau as pastor of Hobbs Chapel and Wesley United in Fruitland. From there, I served as pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Jefferson City and Wentzville United Methodist Church. I became senior pastor of Centenary July 1.

My wife Lisa and I married in 1986. We have two children: Sarah, who is married and living in Springfield, Mo., and Adam, who is a sophomore at the University of Central Missouri.

Q: How long have you been a member of your faith?

A: I have been Methodist my whole life, beginning at Third Street United Methodist Church.

Q: Who or what inspired you to become a pastor?

A: I have always been an intensely curious person. Life has to make sense for me. I am always looking for a bigger picture. And for a while, I was convinced that all the evidence I looked at, especially involving science, was leading me toward a big picture without God -- or at least without the God I grew up learning about. If I had to choose one word, it would be fear -- fear that the next book I read or the next question I asked would show that the story of God and Santa have much in common, if you know what I mean. I went to seminary with more questions than answers and, for the first time in my life, began to think seriously about Jesus Christ as the way, truth and life -- as the human face of God.

Now, the word I would choose is freedom. I am free to follow my curiosity wherever it leads, assured that it will never lead me away from Jesus. It will only lead me to a deeper understanding of Jesus and a deeper experience of him. As a pastor, I have the opportunity to help others find ultimate meaning, value and purpose in Jesus Christ.

Q: What's the greatest blessing you've experienced in the ministry?

A: It is a privilege to be with people at the most intense moments of their lives -- everything from birth to death.

Q: What's the greatest challenge you've experienced in the ministry?

A: The greatest challenge is inseparable from the greatest blessing, because many of those intense moments involve loss -- loss of life or a marriage or another relationship.

Q: What upcoming events or sermon series do you have scheduled at Centenary United Methodist Church.

A: Our next sermon series, "Jesus Face to Face," begins the weekend of Sept. 2. We will look at Jesus through the eyes of those who encountered him before his crucifixion and resurrection, including Mary and Martha, a man in need of healing, and some of his opponents.

Our Wednesday evening ministries begin Sept. 12, including activities involving children, youth and adults. We have a meal at 5:30 p.m. and then worship at 6 p.m., with music provided by Seeking Soul, our youth praise band.

Q: What's your favorite Bible verse and why?

A: Hebrews 12:1: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us." This verse captures for me the essence of a life of faith. We cannot run the race that was set before our parents and grandparents. However, we can build on their faith and run the race that only we can run -- to be the people and do the things that God is calling us to be and to do.

Q: What makes your church unique?

A: We have five unique worship services: Wednesday at 6 p.m. (resuming Sept. 12), Saturday at 3 p.m. at Chateau Girardeau (which is open to all), and Sunday morning at 8 (Holy Communion in the chapel), 8:45 (traditional worship in the sanctuary) and 11 (contemporary worship in the Family Life Center).

The history of Cape Girardeau and Centenary Church cannot be separated. The Methodist movement, which led to the formation of Centenary Church, came to this area shortly after 1800. Centenary Church continues the unique United Methodist focus on grace: that God loves us enough to meet us wherever we are and, at the same time, God loves us too much to leave us where he found us.

Q: What ongoing ministries does your church have that people might be interested in?

A: We are a church of all generations, from newborns to folks nearing 100. In addition to our five worship services, we offer Christian education and small group opportunities, as well as opportunities to deepen and to live out our faith. Two recent example: 34 of our youth, college age, and adult members recently returned from a mission trip to Joplin. Two weeks ago, almost 50 people from Centenary welcomed over 100 international students to SEMO, and to Cape Girardeau, with a meal featuring food from around the world.

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