Thursday, May 22, 2014
Maurice Nason Jr. knew, since the fifth grade, what he wanted to be when he grew up.
While other boys his age thought of making money, becoming firefighters or police officers, even astronauts, ideas that fell by the wayside as they grew, he never wavered. He wanted to be a minister.
Today, 38 years later, he still wants to be a minister.
At a time when people were turning away from God and from the church, Nason turned to his faith. Ask him why, and he struggles for an answer.
“I’ve asked myself that question many times. Evidently my years in the ministry have validated that decision,” he said.
Thinking back, he said that there are different ways that people discern God’s call. “One of the ways is the focus of your spiritual lift, your church life and the belief that God indeed wants you to be a pastor. So I started getting that about the fifth grade.”
He grew up in the United Methodist Church, taken to the church as an infant, and although he was raised in South Carolina, his home church was across the river, in Augusta, Ga.
He’s had a church since he entered the seminary and upon graduation became a fully ordained elder 38 years ago, at the age of 27.
He knew he was heading to the seminary when he earned his undergraduate degree in counseling from the University of South Carolina.
And while he said he didn’t start out to be part of a pastoral staff, his seven years at Belin Memorial United Methodist Church have been the longest he’s spent at any church since his graduation from the seminary.
In June, he will become the pastor St. Paul UMC in Florence.
And while he will be leaving the Inlet that he has called home for nearly a decade, it’s a “temporary” move.
“I wanted my own church one more time before I retired,” he said.
So he will pack up his knowledge, his belongings and one of his four cats – “the one who likes me best” – and move to Florence.
His wife of 40 years, Joy, a successful travel agent with AAA, intends to stay in the area that the couple calls home.
With both of the Nasons working long hours, it’s not going to be terribly different in terms of spending time together. And they will not be that far away.
Nason is a comfortable man as he sits in his office at Belin. His desk is neat, but not abnormally so, and books fill two floor-to-ceiling bookcases.
His windows look out on the Belin playground, where he can watch the preschoolers at play. In a way, that is his children fix.
He has no children of his own, but he has hundreds that he has “acquired” in his years at Belin.
While he has traveled during his career, even spending time in Maine – his father was from New Hampshire – he’s always come home to the Carolinas.
He’s also comfortable in his career. It’s allowed him to keep learning, to keep growing.
“This – being a pastor – is hard work,” he concedes. “You are on call, you have to be diplomatic, you have to be caring and understanding and still retain a strong faith.”
He and Mike Alexander, Belin’s senior pastor, make it look easy, not a snap for one of the 10 largest UMC churches in the country.
“He especially,” Nason says of Alexander. “I’ve never seen anyone who works as hard as he does. Putting in the hours…”
Nason said he didn’t ask to be pastoral staff, but he was asked by the Bishop’s Cabinet.
“So like any good Methodist, I thought I’d give it a try.”
It worked, not only for him and the church, but for the community.
“This church is strong in multi-generational ministries,” he notes, “and it has a strong outreach into the community.”
He points to the Blessing of the Inlet, which annually attracts thousands of people to the church grounds, with much of the money raised going to support the church’s ministries.
Among those efforts are the backpack ministry, where the church provides food in backpacks for children who might not have a meal when they leave school.
Belin also sends its youth and adults to parts of the world where people need help.
This summer, the church will be the host to the Salkehatchie Creekside Camp where high school and college students spend a week in an area upgrading homes and helping those less fortunate tend to their homes.
“It’s teamwork,” Nason said, something he hopes to bring to his new church.
“I’m going to bring with me some of the things that make this church great, in a systematic manner.”
He has also learned that “all of us have room to learn, to grow. I’m being broad-based here, but when I leave here at the end of June, I will be a much more well-rounded person than I was when I came here.”
St. Paul UMC may benefit immediately in its new pastor, but Belin also will benefit. Marty Nason will be just down the road, and his ties will remain strong.