Q & A with Dr. Rick Lanford, North Central District Superintendent
This is the second in a two-part series that will introduce the new District Superintendents.
ADVOCATE: Where did you grow up? Have you always lived in South Georgia?
DR. LANFORD: I grew up in a rural area south of Macon called Rutland Community. Some people here in Macon would call it “Sub-South.” I have lived in South Georgia all my life, except when I attended college and seminary.
ADVOCATE: What’s your faith journey?
DR. LANFORD: When I was gleam in my father’s eye, I was in church. When I was in my mother’s womb, I was listening to hymns out of the Cokesbury Hymnal. In the fall of 1958, Rev. Elick Bullington baptized me. My parents, along with the members of Liberty UMC, made a covenant to God to do all in their power to increase my faith, confirm my hope, and perfect me in love. I was confirmed at the same church when I was in the fifth grade. Attending youth camps at Epworth By The Sea and Camp Glisson was an every summer excursion. I got saved every year I attended!
My family later moved our membership to Riverside UMC during my senior high years. I knew that God was working in my life even then, yet I fled from him. Frances Thompson’s book, “The Hound of Heaven,” probably best describes my running from the call to ministry.
It was Rev. Ronnie Wills, then the pastor at Marshallville UMC, who recognized that God was calling me into the ministry while on a UMYF canoe trip down the Flint River. The only reason I went on that canoe trip was because a young lady who I was attracted to at the time (before Kim) had invited me. God sure works in mysterious ways, his wonders to behold.
Church attendance in the Lanford family was mandatory if you wanted to have lunch that Sunday. I felt extremely guilty when I did not attend church on a regular basis during my time in college. My career goal was much different from God’s goal for me. I thought that I might go to medical school while at Oxford and Emory or even law school. At one point, I even thought about dropping out and joining the local sheriff’s department. God had other plans for me.
I served as a youth director for Rev. Owen Williams the summer of 1977. I witnessed firsthand the way he ministered to his congregation. He was so real and genuine. He helped me in so many ways to understand the nature of what it meant to live out your calling by serving the local church. I met with Rev. Reece Turrentine, then the pastor of Riverside UMC, about my calling. It was Riverside UMC that approved me as a candidate for ministry; however, it was Liberty UMC that gave me my spiritual foundation.
ADVOCATE: What was it like to receive the call from Bishop King asking you to be a District Superintendent?
DR. LANFORD: When I received the phone call from Bishop James King inviting me to be a part of his cabinet, I thought he was kidding. It really took me by surprise. I think that I even laughed and said, “Let’s see how well this works trying to do two jobs, both as President of The Foundation for The Methodist Home and as a District Superintendent." Bishop King finally convinced me that he was indeed inviting me to be a District Superintendent and serve on his cabinet. I became emotional and could not respond. He encouraged me not to respond at that time but to wait and discuss this appointment with my wife, Kim. It humbled me that he would even ask. I never saw myself as a District Superintendent, because I had always seen my calling lived out at The Methodist Home.
When he called me back that Friday, Jan. 30, 2014, I knew in my heart, after much prayer and discernment, that this is where God wants me to be. The Bishop wanted to be very clear that this was my decision, knowing the years I had been in ministry at The Methodist Home. I thank God for my call into ministry and every opportunity to share the love of Christ. I cannot express how deeply I love what I do and I will continue to do all I can, through the grace of God, to continue the rich legacy of representing not only the children and youth to the South Georgia Annual Conference, but all the agencies we serve. What we have accomplished leads me to rejoice. What is yet to be done leads me to pray.
ADVOCATE: Tell us about your ministry philosophy and your guiding principles.
DR. LANFORD: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
I constantly remind myself every day, in every situation that I face, to remember John Wesley’s number one rule, “Do no harm!” My prayer every morning is that my words will be kind and gentle, my thoughts be that from above, and that my actions prove God’s love to all people! My guiding principle is to represent the one who loves me, holds me, protects me, and uses me to be a disciple of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. No matter where I am or in what circumstance I find myself, I seek to find the Christ in others. May they discover the Christ in me as well.
ADVOCATE: What has your experience with the transition been like so far, and how do you see the role of the District Superintendent expanding or changing with the transition?
DR. LANFORD: My experience with the transition actually began last year, when I had the honor of being a member of the Transition Team. Our mission was to “Revisit,” “Rethink,” and “Revise,” and we have taken these directives to heart. As a district superintendent, I may have a larger area to cover, but my goals and the mission of the work remains the same. I am so excited about the vision that Bishop King presented to us at the 2014 Annual Conference session. With the reduction in districts, the Transition Team gave birth to a new organizational structure that allows for greater accountability, better communication, and better participation by both lay and clergy, all while keeping our focus on growing a Christ-like world. The District Leadership Team, representing the 12 areas of ministry, is able to come together as one voice representing the whole district. This innovative approach allows the superintendent to reach more people through this type of organizational structure. The actual role of the superintendent is not changing, like Dr. Crump shared in her response to this same question, “it is the methods that we use to do the work that is changing.”
ADVOCATE: What are your visions, goals and hopes for the district?
DR. LANFORD: My vision is to see every Methodist Church in the North Central District growing both spiritually and numerically as a direct result of discipleship. My goal is to equip, educate and disciple both the clergy and lay members of my district so that we can share the love of Christ to people who both participate in our congregations every Sunday and those who do not. It is my hope that no one within the shadows of the steeples of the North Central District will ever not feel or experience the love of Christ either through worship, outreach ministries or our involvement within our local communities.
ADVOCATE: What are the things that most excite you about the district and/or the South Georgia Conference?
DR. LANFORD: It is an incredible feeling to know that we are on the cutting edge of our denomination here in the South Georgia Conference. With the affirmation that the Transition Team received during this year’s Annual Conference came a great sense of renewal and excitement. Organizing our district into clusters will allow sharing of resources, support for one another, and collaboration on projects common to the cluster in order to produce best practices. It is Biblical and Wesleyan! What excites me the most is knowing that, as we move forward into this new structure, kingdom building will not only continue but will grow exponentially.
ADVOCATE: What are some of the biggest challenges you see facing the Conference or district?
DR. LANFORD: The biggest challenge that I perceive is moving from an analog way of sharing ministry into the new digital age. I love traditional worship, singing from the hymn book, reading/reciting our rituals, and writing notes in my Bible as I study or listen to a sermon, yet I know within my heart that in order to reach this next generation we must include and treasure our present traditions while embracing new avenues of the way we share the Gospel and worship within our congregations. I am slowly moving into the use of enhanced technology/social media and seeking advice from those who have first hand experience using these invaluable tools effectively for the kingdom.
ADVOCATE: What do you like best about serving in the South Georgia Conference?
DR. LANFORD: There is no place like home! It is definitely the joy of sharing and experiencing the love of Christ with the folks of the South Georgia Conference. I love our Church! I love my Church!
ADVOCATE: How do you, in the midst of your busy schedule and traveling, make time for quiet time, prayer, and Bible study?
DR. LANFORD: Every year, Kim and I read through the Bible and at some point in the day or evening we discuss what we read and how it relates to our lives. There may be some days that we don’t share because of our schedules or my travel out of town. This year I am listening to the Bible as I walk every morning. Kim is reading though the Bible chronologically. It is really awesome to see how the Word relates to every aspect and circumstance in our lives.
ADVOCATE: Tell us about your family.
DR. LANFORD: I fell in love 36 years ago with the most beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed lady you’ve ever seen. We dated for four years and have been married for 32. I am blessed to have Kim as my wife, best friend, and soul mate. I am a better person and minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ because of having her in my life. We have three daughters, Derricka, Joanna and Sara Beth. Derricka is married to Jamie and they have one son, Dean Michael. She graduated from the Coast Guard Academy and now serves our country in Miami, Fla. Joanna graduated with degrees from both the University of Georgia and University of California Davis. She is the enologist at Opus One Winery in Oakville, Calif. Sara Beth is married to Matthew and they have one son, Luke. She graduated from Georgia Southern with her undergraduate degree and received her Master’s degree from Georgia College and State University. She is a teacher at North Macon Pre-School. Sara Beth and her family live in Smarr, Ga., which is about 10 minutes up the road from our house. We love that! We have two little white dogs that live with us and think they are in charge since the girls have all moved out. I had to put to sleep my English Cocker of 15 years last month. She was the best hunting/companion dog I ever had the privilege of hunting behind. I do see another bird dog in the future, but not until after Charge Conference season!
ADVOCATE: What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies and interests?
DR. LANFORD: I enjoy being with my family, both immediate and extended. We try to have supper every Sunday night with Sara Beth and her family. We enjoy playing a game called Rummikub! I also love hunting and fishing. I love just being on a private pond with a good friend, sharing stories and life experiences or behind a good bird dog, walking through a stand of plantation pines, hunting for a wild covey of quail. I enjoy sitting on a stand watching the sunrise and the woods come alive. I also volunteer my time by serving as Chief Chaplain to the Bibb County Sheriff’s office and several other law enforcement agencies within the state of Georgia. I am also a part of an S3 Group, (Study, Sabbath and Service). This group of fellow clergy brothers has provided a place of retreat, renewal and revitalization to my soul.
ADVOCATE: What’s one fact about you that most people don’t know?
DR. LANFORD: I enjoy tying my own flies, and especially catching a fish with one that I tied!