It’s a familiar sight, churches sprinkled across East Texas.
Some are big, with a full-time staff to take care of a congregation’s needs, but many are smaller.
Manned by those who felt and accepted the call, but must balance that with their work in the business world, and their families.
“it’s difficult, but it’s like the old Ed Sullivan Show where the guy was balancing the plates on the sticks, John Carr, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, said. “I have to constantly run up and down the line, spinning the plates, to keep everything moving.”
Reverend John P. Carr is the vicar at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Lindale.
A graduate of the Iona school for ministry, Carr is a new type of church leader.
One that is able to maintain his professional career, as a business owner of an oil and gas exploration company, and also serve the church.
Carr said, “I’ve always felt this might be my role in life, as a priest, but when you’re an independent businessman you have a cycle of business that doesn’t allow you many opportunities to get off that merry-go-round.”
This program, started by the Diocese of Texas, gave Carr an opportunity to pursue his vocational calling.
The initiative of the school allows a full-time presence in churches that can not afford full-time priests.
“They came up with this program to address the issue of not having clergy in these small churches, Carr explained. “They were being served by more or less you could say a circuit riding or a retired priest, who might serve occasionally.”
A challenging call, entering priesthood just happened to be the role that Carr felt called to.
Another test was heading back to the classroom.
Carr said, “The hardest part of it was becoming a student again at age 59. “It was like jumping on a horse running by.”
Reverend Carr has been with St. Lukes since September of 2013.
He started as a layman before becoming an ordained priest in January of this year.
Carr says it was serving the church in various capacities before, that prepared him for his current role.
But his nerves didn’t vanish entirely.
“Initially it was maybe like a D-Day landing, Carr explained. “You’re parachuting in and you’re counting on support from those around you.”
“There’s a little bit of a learning curve, both for them and for me, to know what was going to be needed.”
With time, Reverend Carr was able to find that groove and earn the congregation’s support.
“There is a great demand for people who are doing what I’m doing in all the small churches,” Carr said.
Elder Robert Loftis is the head of the congregation at Corinth Christian Church in Kilgore.
In the military for just under 25 years, Loftis retired from the armed forces to join the church.
“I was determined to be the best pastor that you could be, or I could be in this part of the world,” Loftis said.
Loftis attended Jarvis Christian College, also later in life, in pursuit of his vocational calling.
Loftis said, “As an elder person you would be surprised at how the young people would put their arms around you, and try to get you to where you ought to be if you showed that love and respect.”
Returning to his hometown in Rusk County, Texas, Loftis struggled to change the opinions of those who knew him earlier in life.
“There were things I was trying to do to gain their confidence and let them know that god had made a change in my life,” Loftis said.
Loftis said after close to two years he was able to make that switch.
“People that raised me, now I’m leading them,” Loftis explained. “That’s a great feeling.”
In 1987, Loftis ran for the Laneville ISD School Board. A position he’s held for just under 30 years.
Balancing competing time commands, he is plugged into East Texas as a community leader and pastor.
Loftis said, “To me they tie in hand to hand.”
Ultimately, a passion for others drives Elder Loftis.
“I love people, I love people, that’s the only thing, I love people and if you love people you are going to do the best that you can to make them happy,” Loftis said.
Embracing the church and their professional careers both pastors fulfill an important role in their local congregation.