Retirement Beckons Dr. Don Waddleton
The Center for Congregational Excellence will bear a Don-Waddleton-shaped hole on June 1 of this year, but his kingdom legacy-- as he heads into retirement -- is both deep and wide.
When he’s happily relaxing and watching John Wayne or Matt Dillon in an old Western for the umpteenth time, Dr. Don Waddleton can tell you about the next scene and recite the dialogue word for word. But when it comes to retiring from a very fulfilling career spanning almost four decades, he can’t predict the future – and he likes it that way. “When July 1 arrives, it will be the first time since I was 16 years old that I won’t have a job,” shares Don. “Yes, I hope to do some traveling, set my own schedule, play more golf, and read books of my choosing, but I honestly have no idea what I will do with the rest of my retirement.”
While several peers have already visited his office to pursue him for post-retirement consulting projects, he is resisting the notion of working – at least for the foreseeable future. “I tend to be a workaholic,” he shares, “so I know that even if I sign on for a part-time project, I will make it into a fulltime job in nothing flat --because that’s my nature.”
That was Then, This is Now
Don reflects on his impressive career with a smile. He attended Prairie View A&M, St. Paul School of Theology, Perkins and McCormick Theological Seminary to obtain his doctorate of ministry in the 1990s. “My first love is serving in a pastoral role, which I was able to do in a dozen or so churches throughout Texas over the years,” he says. “One of my greatest joys was watching the small church of Red Oak UMC in Marshall make some decisions to grow – inspired by an 80-year old man who served as the catalyst,” he shares. “The man decided to invite the youth to church that he saw playing in the streets on his way to and from services, and he was successful at getting 8-9 of them in his car every week! His secret, we later found out, was taking them to McDonald’s on the way to Sunday School and back there after church for lunch.” During the 1980s, Red Oak received the Conference Evangelism Award for a 100% increase in attendance and 300% increase in church school, a special honor he will always cherish.
Other highlights Don celebrates at this phase of his life also include challenges such as serving as the first cross-racial pastor at Asbury UMC in 1991, and watching Jones Memorial UMC, which he dubs as a “sleeping giant,” become a giant about a decade later. “I was there when we bought the land, and I handed the baton to Rev. Lawrence Young, who then handed it to Rev. Kenneth Levingston,” he says. “We had so many Disciple Bible studies going on that it was obvious we needed more room. In no time, that church grew from 200-800, and I credit that to very strong laity and a willingness to reach beyond their comfort zone to be kingdom minded about relocating and buying land to move.”
Don left Jones Memorial UMC to serve as a District Superintendent in what felt like “stepping into the unknown.” As he looks back he says, “I had a good time there with the opportunity to affect multiple churches – about 46 at that time.” Revitalization has long been his passion, so he is thrilled to have been able to launch the Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI) process once he joined the conference staff as the Director of the Center of Congregational Excellence. “Seeing this conference embrace VCI proves that our pastors were hungry to do something that would make an impact, so I am thrilled so many see this as a possibility for their church. I know Chap Temple will help take this initiative to the next level with gusto.”
Don’s fond memories also include watching young pastors’ involvement in the creation of a TAC ‘original’ – the Youth Academy. “I merely served as the fetch-em guy at these events, but I loved seeing these 10-11th graders walk into a life-changing environment and to know that we have received the most applicants to date for the next event. The Academy was one of my first tasks on staff with the conference, so I owe the founder, Karen Dorris, a crown of jewels for helping get that off to a roaring start. We were the first conference to create this type of program and we are often consulted for information on our successful model.”
Retirement or Bust
Top on his retirement TO DO list is spending more time with his three grandchildren, who currently reside at the top of the U.S. “For starters,” he adds, “I will be seeing my granddaughter graduate from high school this year and then enjoy taking my extended family on an trip to England this summer.” At some point after that trip, he hopes to take a slow and steady road trip up the East Coast and stop over for his wife’s family reunion along the way.
Many are already preparing themselves for his absence after June 30. “Don has been a tireless supporter of the youth in this conference and has been a great encouragement to me in my own ministry,” notes Rev. Elizabeth Duffin, Lakewood UMC, Houston.
“One of my favorite things about Don is his great laugh,” says Debbie Sutton, his administrative assistant for the last four years. “It has always been fun to find a way to get him laughing, so he is going to be greatly missed around the office.” Adds Debbie, “Don has demonstrated, through his commitment to ministry and his kind nature, how to be the hands and feet of Christ. His example and his laugh will sorely be missed, but I know it's time for him to turn off that computer and enjoy the wonders in retirement.”
Don and District Superintendent Rev. Lawrence Young have been close cohorts for decades. “Don Waddleton has been a great resource to me and my ministry, even before he became a DS or a Center Director. Don is a great mind with a really big heart. His excitement comes in empowering others to soar. His love for God and the church has always been evident in his work ethic and dedication to whatever the task. This is one retirement that will leave a noticeable gap in our conference, but also one that is much deserved. God bless my friend and my brother Don in this new season of his life.”
Once July hits the calendar, look for Dr. Waddleton on the golf course or wrapped up with a good book or watching one of his beloved Westerns. “I usually can’t sit still long, but I am going to enjoy setting my own schedule in the years ahead.”
"Dr. Waddleton's contributions to the Annual Conference, the United Methodist Church, and the Kingdom are immeasurable,” notes Jeff Olive, Director of TAC New Church Starts. “Greater still is the way he invested in each person and relationship throughout his ministry. He has been a mentor and friend to me and countless others. The church is better, we are better, because Don served as a steadfast man of integrity."
Bishop Janice Huie summarizes his ample contributions this way: “Dr. Don Waddleton combines a love of the local church with a vision for the future and the skills to implement that vision. Thanks to Dr. Waddleton, the Texas Annual Conference has more new churches and more vibrant churches than we had when he began. God bless him!”