Famous Author Leads Youth at Hawkins UMC in East Texas
On more than one occasion, Hawkins resident and longtime Methodist Kathy Murphy has hob-knobbed with the likes of Oprah and Diane Sawyer, in her quest to promote literacy via her own personal passion for reading. Other life achievements include writing a bestseller, starting a zany globe-spanning book club enterprise, and being the hairstylist to the stars -- including the late Joan Rivers. Her newest adventures include selling the movie rights to her life story to DreamWorks – and revitalizing the youth program at Hawkins UMC in woodsy East Texas.
“My home life was quite unpredictable when I began visiting churches with my friends as a teen, so I fell in love with the calm and meaningful rituals of the Methodist denomination from a young age,” shares Kathy. “I joined Jefferson UMC to raise my two daughters in the Methodist church and I served alongside them in the nursery, vacation Bible school, teaching Sunday school, leading scout troops, and helping with church camp. I’ve always just done it all – which eventually landed me the volunteer Youth Director role in my home church for many years.”
Amidst a whirlwind of fascinating endeavors and accomplishments that have since enriched her public persona, Kathy’s ‘Methodist life’ has come full circle. Two years ago, she moved an hour from historic Jefferson to Hawkins and joined the staff of Hawkins UMC as part-time youth director -- at the urging of Rev. Allison Byerley. “The church family embraced me as I transitioned into this wonderful community after my divorce, and they gave me a fresh start.”
Ironically, the church wanted to hire a youth director while many of the existing youth were aging out of the church and going to college or elsewhere. “I basically needed to go out and find kids to build my own youth group,” she explains, “which has been a learning experience for all of us, but one that has benefited me, the congregation, and the youth who have come to church for the first time in their lives.” The young people have surprised Kathy with basic questions such as, “What is a sermon?” In fact, her tears streamed down her face as one of them told her that Hawkins UMC was the first church that “hasn’t run us off.” She was touched to hear him say, “You seem to really want us here.”
“Consequently, “she explains, “I am having to start from scratch with even the basic life lessons of what is acceptable in a church environment – often urging them to watch their language as they head into God’s house, because they have never been taught. But they are getting it.” She is proud of Hawkins UMC for opening the doors to the 18 or so youth from all ethnic groups that are attending regularly, and for creating a Safe Sanctuary environment that includes an Internet café and GaGa court catered to encourage them to bring friends.
A voracious reader, Kathy has incorporated her Advance-Literacy passion into the youth group, as well, by reading books together, discussing them and finding scriptures that echo themes and messages on the topic. “I love to bring authors to town, and hope to do more of that, to bring reading to life in an even greater dimension.”
In recent months, Hawkins UMC has started a Wednesday night event, a youth choir, organized a Seder Dinner where Rev. Byerley could share new insight with the teens, confirmation classes, and now Kathy is in full blown fundraising mode to cover costs to take her group to summer camp.
Fortunately, she has the reputation of being the “Energizer Bunny” who is able to keep three life passions going at an exhaustive pace. DreamWorks will soon bring her eclectic life to the big screen and highlight this United Methodist go-getter who juggles the youth group work, a hair salon (Beauty and the Book) and a book club that grew out of her book (Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life).
Kathy is often whisked out of town for a speaking engagement or to host dozens of bestselling authors at one of her famous Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekends, but she keeps her youth group at the center of her heart all the while. “I have always loved working with kids and would do this job for free if I could afford to,” says Kathy. “We all want the same things: a life that matters, food, and shelter, so the best thing we can do for these young people is to provide that environment and make them disciples for Christ.”