Q & A with Rev. Mike Huling - Savannah District Superintendent
ADVOCATE: Where did you grow up? Have you always lived in South Georgia?
REV. HULING: I grew up in Macon, Georgia, except for a two-year hiatus below Miami. My dad worked for the Air Force, but we generally stayed in Macon. We went to Southside and then to Aldersgate; Aldersgate was my home church through my teen years. I’m a South Georgia Methodist – it’s in my blood.
ADVOCATE: How did you get started in ministry?
REV. HULING: I went to the University of Georgia and graduated with a B.S. in chemistry degree. I thought I was going to be working in chemistry or teaching, but I took a year off and worked in Macon. I went home and got back to my roots. I went back to church at Aldersgate and helped with the youth and they had Lay Witness Mission. In that Lay Witness Mission there were three or four young people who were 16 or 17 years old who came to share their testimony. That Saturday night I came in after working and as they were sharing their testimonies I saw in them a peace that I did not have. That day I fully surrendered my life to Christ. The call to ministry happened five months later. I was still working, still planning to go back to Georgia, but one day in February when the retail business was really slow, I got to talking to a young woman who was a clerk – I was selling shoes – who was having a tough time. We had a pretty intense conversation. As we were talking, I talked a lot about Jesus and what He had done for me, and as I had to get up and greet a customer, as I was walking away, she said, “You know, you ought to be a preacher.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. I went back in the stockroom and just laughed for probably 10 minutes. But that started the whole process. I ended up going to Vidette; that was my first appointment.
Even before that I knew something was going on because I kept saying that the one thing I wasn’t going to be was a minister … it’s amazing how that happens, isn’t it?
ADVOCATE: Your first appointment was at Vidette United Methodist Church. Where did you go from there?
REV. HULING: That’s an interesting story. Fred McClendon was my Superintendent, and he called me. I had been there four years, and had a good four years even though it was in the middle of nowhere! He talked to me in February about possible appointments and he gave me six churches that were possibilities and said that he wanted me to go and think about it and pray about it. So I did and I called him an hour later and said, “Listen, I can go anywhere in South Georgia.” I was single at the time, I had no ties. I told him I’d go anywhere in South Georgia but I didn’t want to go home – I didn’t want to go back to the Macon District. He said okay, and the first week of April he called me and said he had the perfect appointment and that I was going to East Macon. Boy, I tell you what, that was one of the few times I have been really upset about the appointment process, but I am a firm believer in going where you’re sent. So I went and there was a young woman there named Melinda. She had a 6-year-old daughter named Melanie, and Melanie and I became fast friends at Vacation Bible School. The first Sunday in September – communion Sunday – Melanie invited me home for lunch. And when Melinda came through I said, “I understand I have been invited to lunch,” and literally her jaw hit the ground. Two weeks later she invited me for supper, and it kind of went from there. We got married July the next year.
If I trust the system, it’s going to put me where I need to be.
ADVOCATE: Well, that’s a perfect segue into the next question … tell us about your family.
REV. HULING: Well, you already know that Melinda has a daughter, Melanie. She’s now in her mid-30s, working as a nurse, and she has a son named Micah, our grandson, who is 6. They live in Brunswick. Our son Matthew was born the day after Christmas after we moved to Pembroke. He’s married to Heather. He is a graduate of Georgia Southern and is working in banking in Statesboro. Monica is our baby. She’s 21, and is a senior at Georgia Southern. She’ll be getting married next year. So, we’ll have everyone out of the nest then.
Melinda is probably more of a minister than I am. She has an amazing ability to relate to people where they are. She’s the one who keeps me humble. She continues to remind me to not let stuff go to my head and she keeps me grounded.
ADVOCATE: How did you find out that you had been appointed to be a District Superintendent? Did you get a call from Bishop King? What was your reaction?
REV. HULING: Oh, what a story – you don’t have enough room! Melinda and I went through a rough 2010. She lost her eyesight last August because of medication she was taking, so the fall of 2010 was a blur for us. In January she started recovering her sight. It was a miracle! She can now see 20/20 out of one eye. The other one has a large cataract but they don’t want to do any surgery yet. This all happened by the end of January. On February 14 the Bishop called and asked about becoming a superintendent. Probably everybody has used this word, but I was totally shocked. We had moved two years before to Thomasville and we felt like we had just gotten dug in and things were going great in Thomasville. But Bishop King said that he needed us in the Savannah District, and we were honored. I will tell you, if he had called two weeks before I would have told him there’s no way, because the doctor had told us that it may take up to two years for Melinda to recover her eyesight. But a miracle happened and she can see, so we accepted the appointment to come to the Savannah District. It’s almost like coming home to us, because we served Pembroke and Garden City in the Savannah District and then we served Claxton and Pittman Park in the Statesboro District, so we’ve been close to Savannah for 20 years before we moved to Thomasville. We can almost call this home.
ADVOCATE: What are your visions, goals and hopes for the district?
REV. HULING: The Bishop has reminded us that the call for Methodist churches is to make disciples for the transformation of the world, and I’d love to participate in that process with the churches in the Savannah District.
I’m a firm believer in that everything that takes place takes place in the local church. I’m a local church person. That’s where my heart is. I believe that’s where a lot of real ministry takes place
My vision is that every church find effective ways to reach people in the name of Jesus Christ.
ADVOCATE: What’s one challenge you see facing the Conference or District?
REV. HULING: Coming off of the Council on Finance and Administration and Budget Committees, money is a huge (issue) – it’s a gift, but it’s also a problem because we’ve gone through a real tough time in this country and most churches are suffering and the Conference is, too. So money is key because we understand that we need the resources in order to do effective ministry. Hopefully we can help people understand that what we’re giving to is the lifeblood of the ministry of the Methodist Church.
ADVOCATE: What’s one thing that most excites you about the Savannah District or the South Georgia Conference?
REV. HULING: What excites me is this opportunity I have to work with ministers I know well – because I’ve got some really good friends here – and to get to know some ministers, and to work beside them and assist them in ministry and help both of us capture the vision of what the Bishop is calling us to do in making disciples and in helping churches make some kind of strategic plan for making disciples where they are. That’s the key – the local church needs to work where they’re planted because there are always people around who need the love of Jesus.
ADVOCATE: What do you like best about serving in the South Georgia Conference?
REV. HULING: I think there are a couple of things. First and foremost is that we’re not so large that we don’t know one another. One of the problems that I sense for myself is that, being in one area for 20 years, even though it’s a plus, it’s also a negative in that I’ve missed getting a chance to get to know some other ministers. But we’re not so large that we shouldn’t know one another, and that just takes some effort to do. Number two, I just love South Georgia. I love the rural nature. We have strategic cities, but we have good down-home people that know how to love. I will say that, everywhere we’ve been, the churches loved us and allowed us to flourish as a parsonage family.
ADVOCATE: How do you, in the midst of your busy schedule and your traveling, make time for your quiet time, prayer, and Bible study?
REV. HULING: Luckily I am an early-morning person; I’m generally up between 5 and 5:30 a.m. and I use some of that time for reflection. Here in the district office it’s not like a local church – you don’t have the comings and goings, so there’s some special time during the day when I have time to read. I’m reading “The Speed of Trust,” which is one of the books that’s recommended. The other thing is that I’m a runner … and I’ve been running in the early morning. That’s part of my prayer time because I don’t have to worry about cell phones or being contacted.
ADVOCATE: What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies and interests?
REV. HULING: I do play golf. I play at golf – I’m not a golfer! I haven’t played much lately … there are several golfers on the Cabinet and we hope to have some time to interact more on the golf course. That’s my getaway time, when I take time to get it.
ADVOCATE: What’s one fact about you that most people don’t know?
REV. HULING: On my mother’s side I am the seventh generation Methodist preacher. That has been a little scary, but I am part of a heritage. It is part of who I am. It’s an amazing legacy … a little scary, but I’ll live with it!