A Wisconsin native who considers himself a “church builder” has returned to his Midwestern roots to take over the pulpit at one of Waverly’s largest congregations.
Tom Barnard has been in the ministry for 25 years after stints as a band director and stock broker. He officially started his tenure as pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church earlier this month.
After running several larger companies for 29 years, Barnard heard the call to ministry in 1995.
“People are people,” Barnard said of the transition from Wall Street to the church. “There is no difference serving the needs of people. In one area, you’re serving the economic needs of the people, and in the other way, you’re serving the spiritual need. It is just a matter of understanding the way to serve those needs and the needs of people in different ways.”
Barnard was sent to Trinity by the church’s bishop, much like is done in the Catholic church, as opposed to being called by the congregation like what is done in a few other denominations.
His official capacity within the United Methodist Church is a “transitional intentional interim pastor.”
“That means that I am a free agent,” Barnard explained. “I go where my skill set is needed, and the bishops across the country know that.”
He is one of approximately 100 pastors across the U.S. that fill that capacity within the UMC, and they can go from border to border, coast to coast in their ministry. The average tenure is two to six years.
Originally from Door County, Wisconsin, he spent much of his career on the East Coast, specifically in North Carolina and Virginia. Barnard’s last post was in Winchester, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.
“It’s an absolutely gorgeous area,” he said. “It’s an area that many songs and poems have been written about.”
As the Shenandoah River runs through the mountainous region, the area is dotted with apple and peach orchards. Barnard called the area the most beautiful part of the Old Dominion.
Barnard said his skill of church building brought him to Waverly. Even though Trinity’s congregation is very established, his job is bringing order to the church.
“Traditionally, throughout Christian history, pastors are ordained to many things,” he said. “One of the four major ones is order. When the church is ready to begin the process of growing, then you begin reaching into the community in different ways and bring people in to look at who we are, what we’re doing, what we can be doing, what we should be doing and what we’d like to do and be a part of it.
“Trinity, like many Christian churches all over this country, is not growing like it used to. In fact, many churches are declining — that’s not the case with Trinity, but many churches are declining and closing.”
He considers Trinity to be a very important church in the Bremer County area, and the attendance has been stable for many years.
“We would like to see it grow, hopefully exponentially,” Barnard added. “You do that with families and younger people — millennials and so forth that are not attending. You do things to attract those to the church to fill a hole in their heart that needs to be filled.”
He believes that people have a gap within their spiritual bodies that need to be filled with something. Some do it with vices, but Barnard hopes that through the ministry, those holes can be filled with the Lord.
His vision is to help Trinity grow substantially and position the church for that to continue for years beyond his tenure.
“The church is very involved in the community at this time,” Barnard said. “It was for many years, decades, the largest worshiping congregation in Waverly. It’s my intent to bring it back to that.”
Barnard and his second wife, Branch, have been married for 20 years. He has four children from his first marriage — Matthew, a CEO of a start-up in San Francisco; Andrea Ickes, a state coordinator for The Children’s Place in Boston; Timothy, a recruiter with the Arc of the Triangle, a disabled persons employment training facility, in Durham, North Carolina; and Bert, an analyst with Virginia Commonwealth University hospital system in Richmond, Virginia. He also has six grandchildren: Luke, Nathan, Emma, Ashlyn, Lincoln and Asher.
In his brief time in town, Barnard thinks Waverly is a “quintessential Midwestern town.” He added that the restaurants in town are all excellent — “I haven’t had a bad meal,” he said — and has frequented the town’s grocery stores and has been to Miller True Value, “I don’t know how many times.”
“I absolutely love it,” he said. “The people are friendly. They actually look up and say, ‘Hello,’ to you, as opposed to the Washington, D.C., area… where people look down and don’t say, ‘Hello.’
“It’s nice to be back in the Midwest, where people actually look you in the eye and are friendly and actually laugh and will stop in the streets and talk with you. I am thoroughly enjoying being back.”