By Lindsay Peyton
You could say that ministry is in the Rev. Dr. Tom Pace’s DNA. The Senior Pastor at St. Luke’s UMC can count members on both sides of his family who have served as pastors in the United Methodist Church.
His mother’s brother Dr. D. L. Landrum, Jr. and father Dr. D. L. Landrum Sr. were both pastors in the Texas Annual Conference. The younger Rev. Landrum founded Memorial Drive UMC in Houston, while his father served at Trinity UMC in Beaumont and St. Mark’s UMC in Houston, and became a District Superintendent under Bishop A. Frank Smith.
His mother’s maternal grandfather Dr. E. L. Ingrum was also a pastor serving churches in the Texas Conference, such as Bering Memorial and Grace in Houston. Pace’s paternal great grandfather, O. P. Kiker was a Methodist minister in Fort Worth, serving throughout North and West Texas.
Despite his rich family heritage in the church, Pace did not spend much time sitting in the pews as a child growing up in southern Illinois.
Instead, he found his own way to ministry. It all started when a friend invited him to attend a youth retreat.
“He invited me to bring my guitar and play, but that was 1972, and everyone played the guitar,” Pace recalled with a laugh. “It was a ploy.”
And it worked. “It was so full of fun and love and joy,” Pace said. “Those people became my best friends during high school.”
In the group, he also met Dee Wagner, who would later become his wife. Now married for 45 years, the couple has five daughters and 11 grandchildren.
Dee’s father Dr. Boyd Wagner is also a United Methodist minister, who would follow Pace to the Texas Annual Conference and even serve at his side at St. Luke’s. “We had the privilege of working for a decade together,” Pace said.
His own path to ministry happened serendipitously. “My intention was always to be an attorney,” he explained. Pace loved debate in high school. His father was a professor of speech.
Still, what started as summer jobs as a youth director would steer him in a whole different direction. “The Lord just opened doors,” Pace said.
After earning a bachelor’s degree at Southern Illinois University in only two years, the 19-year old started seminary at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. He would later earn a Doctor of Ministry degree from Drew University.
While in seminary, Pace still thought he would eventually head to law school. In the meantime, he started an internship at a church in Duncanville, Texas.
At the time, the late Rev. Dr. Walter Underwood, then Senior Pastor at St. Luke’s UMC, came to town to preach at a revival. Pace met him.
“The next day, he called to ask if I would interview to be the youth pastor at St. Luke’s,” Pace recalled. “I took the job, even though I was still in seminary.”
There were days when he would jump on a plane after class and head straight to St. Luke’s from the airport.
Before long, Pace had graduated and was serving full-time at the church. He spent two and a half years under Underwood and another two under his successor Dr. Jim Moore.
“There’s no question – it was a great education,” Pace said. “Dr. Underwood was innovative and energetic. He just wanted to make things happen – and even brought the computer into the church. Dr. Moore was incredibly pastoral. He had so much integrity and he loved people.”
Pace would end up following in their footsteps, eventually taking the helm at St. Luke’s in 2006.
Before then, he was appointed Pastor at Faith UMC in South Houston from 1987 to 1990. Next, he became the founding Pastor at Bay Harbour UMC in Clear Lake and then Senior Pastor at Christ Church UMC in Sugar Land.
Pace once received a letter from a man who had served as an Associate Pastor for his grandfather Dr. Landrum. The man shared what he thought was the best advice he had received from Landrum: “Serve every church in the Texas Conference as the best church in the Texas Conference, and one day the phone will ring and you will go somewhere else.”
And if the phone never rang, you could be content knowing you served the best church in the Conference for the rest of your life.
“I do believe that’s true,” Pace said. “I was always in a place, where I believed that if I never go anywhere else, I would be happy, where I could have retired serving that church.”
He has fond memories of each church home and family. Still, returning to St. Luke’s felt like a homecoming.
“It’s a church with a laity who believes God calls them to action, who wants to do things,” Pace said. “And that’s always exciting. Most people don’t just want to come to church. They want a church that’s trying to make a difference. This church is certainly that.”
He said that despite some differences in ideology, the congregation and staff members are united in their commitment to Christ and dedication to service.
“St. Luke’s has a spirit of joy and kindness,” Pace said. “There’s a spirit of welcome when you come in the door.”
Looking back at his career path, Pace said that he feels especially blessed to have landed in the role as pastor. “I have a creative opportunity to express myself every week,” he said. “I can also design business plans and work on strategic visions.”
It’s a job that allows him to dream – and to speak. He also credits his parents for fostering critical thinking skills that continue to serve him well.
Perkins pushed him in the same way. “It was a place where we were challenged to have our own understanding of the Christian faith and do so in a way that was supported Biblically. You learned to think, to question, to struggle.”
Dr. Pace and Dr. Clayton Oliphint, Senior Pastor at First UMC Richardson, were selected as recipients of the 2023 Perkins Distinguished Alumnus Award. The award recognizes graduates who have demonstrated effectiveness and integrity in service to the church, outstanding service to the community and continuing support of the goals of Perkins and Southern Methodist University.
Pace, who earned his Master of Divinity from Perkins in 1982, and Oliphint will be honored at the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Banquet on Nov. 13.
Receiving the award came as a surprise. “I was very humbled,” Pace said.
He continues to be passionate about ministry and is committed to helping realize the vision of St. Luke’s UMC at both its Westheimer and Gethsemane campuses, as they both build transformative ministries.
What others might consider challenging – like navigating online ministry or imagining a future church – only seems to excite Pace.
He seeks to find ways to increase connection and deepen discipleship online. He sees a path forward for the church in following the Gospel to create meaningful lives.
It just might look a little different than it does now, he explained.
Making a positive impact takes time – and you can’t give up, Pace added. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he said.