Sandra Smith Retiring: Northwest District Transitioning to New DS
This July, District Superintendent Rev. Sandra Smith will hand her district off to Rev. Marlin Fenn and pursue a new adventure in retirement.
In the role of district superintendent for the last six years, Rev. Sandra Smith has been a ‘facilitator deluxe’ in the northwest district. “I love helping leaders and churches discover the vision God has given them and helping them make that a reality,” she says, as she winds down from multiple decades in ministry and heads toward retirement. “My favorite part of this role has been seeing laity reaching out in innovative ways and hardworking clergy sharing their testimonies of faith.”
Sandra was born and raised on a farm in southern Illinois, graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio and Perkins School of Theology at SMU. Her most “notable” claim to fame is that she and husband Randy were the “first clergy couple” in the Texas Annual Conference when they married in 1974.
Among some of her other career highlights, Sandra feels a sense of accomplishment in having helped Cypress Trails UMC recover after an arson fire as well as helping Russell Memorial UMC in Wills Point rebound after a fire shortly after her arrival as the DS. “No one wants this kind of thing to happen, but it shows the generosity of people and gives many of us a chance to talk about our faith. Both of these churches came back stronger and better than ever, which is a testimony to the power of God.”
Others have observed Sandra at work in recent decades and several of her fellow leaders and longtime friends gave glowing accolades at a recent retirement dinner and reflect here on her authenticity and dedication. “Sandy is one of the hardest working district superintendents that I know. She works from can to can't,” shares fellow DS Rev. Bill Taylor. “Sandy is good natured, big hearted, loving and generous. She will be sorely missed by the Texas Annual Conference and especially around the Cabinet table. She is a soft spoken person but when she speaks her words bear the truth.”
Rev. Gail Ford Smith, Director of the TAC Center for Clergy Excellence describes her this way, “The Rev. Sandra Williams Smith is good as gold with a heart as big as Texas. She is a voracious reader, consuming a book a day. She has a keen mind and quick wit and wonderful sense of humor. She has mastered her large iPhone to her advantage in order to best serve the pastors and churches in the Northwest District. She can also find YouTube videos to calm her spirit or save the day! She is always on the hunt for the perfect gift for someone, usually a trinket of some kind--a noisemaker or flying monkey--something that fits the occasion. But most of all, Sandra is a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ and everything she does points to Him. We will miss her terribly around the Cabinet table as, when she speaks, everyone listens. But we rejoice that she now gets to enjoy watching the birds and flowers she so loves. Who knows how many books she will read every day in retirement? And some blessed UMC will have her teaching a children's Sunday school class because that is her passion. Sandra is a dearly respected and loved faithful servant of Jesus Christ."
“Sandra has been a “super” superintendent. Her wisdom and gentleness have helped guide us through many challenging situations. More than anyone I can think of, Sandra has been blessed with the gift of encouragement and she has used her gifts to bless the churches in the Northwest District. I am, of course, happy that she’ll now have time to enjoy all the things she loves to do but I will miss her constant grace and good humor.” Adds Bishop Janice Huie.
Having lived in parsonages for decades, the Smiths have just purchased their first home and will move to the west Houston area next month to be closer to their son Nathan who works for the Houston Press.
Reflects Sandra, “It has been a joy to work alongside so many amazing people all these years! Now, Marlin Fenn will be the perfect new DS for the Northwest District, and I could not be more pleased with his appointment.”
As Rev. Marlin Fenn prepares to relocate to north Texas, he is experiencing a hint of déjà vu. “My first appointment out of seminary was at Trinidad UMC and Cedar Creek Lake UMC, at the edge of our border with the Central Texas and North Texas Conferences,” shares Marlin. “That’s where I was serving when Kay Lynn and I got married 30 years ago. Those churches are both in the Northwest District so it feels like completing the circle to serve there again, even though it’s in a different role.”
He adds, “It is an unusual gift to follow such an effective District Superintendent as Sandra Smith. I am also grateful to know that I am leaving Katy First UMC in the extremely capable hands of Rev. Dick White, the former DS for the Southeast District. I’m benefitting from their combined 12 years of experience on the cabinet. There are many ropes to learn and they have been extremely helpful to me.” Marlin appreciates his many mentors. “Jay Jackson, my current superintendent, has also been amazingly helpful. He is an exceptional superintendent and I have learned so much working with him in District leadership.”
Marlin has served in over a half-dozen churches across the conference, including Moody Memorial in Galveston, others in Hallsville, LaPorte, Bryan, and most recently First UMC Katy. With a Bachelor of Science from Texas A&M, he headed to seminary at Perkins School of Theology, receiving his Masters of Divinity in 1985.
He is a former teacher and has a strong track record of leadership roles in communities where he has lived. He is no stranger to challenges. Shares Marlin, “We relocated the churches in both Hallsville and La Porte while I served there. I moved to Hallsville two months after the church had burned, and to La Porte two days after the church was sold.”
Adds Marlin, “I’m excited about serving the Northwest District! There are so many wonderful people and faithful congregations doing the work of Christ in their communities. We have some excellent pastors and laity leading their congregations and doing inspiring ministry. They have great gifts in congregational care, worship leadership, teaching and missional service. I’m eager to dig in and support all that wonderful ministry going on in the Northwest District.”
He is honored to serve with Bishop Huie and all the cabinet. “We have an extremely talented and gracious group of people leading our conference administration and I am so grateful for the gift of working closely with them. My personal growth plan will include time to understand the challenges and more fully appreciate the faithful work being done by each of our congregations in the District.”
He has had extensive experience with capital campaigns, increasing membership, leading building campaigns and other transitional successes. Adds Marlin, “I suspect there will be opportunities to use my training in conflict resolution and in decision analysis, which is a process of making decisions in unclear and complex environments, but I really hope to spend a high percentage of time encouraging effective pastoral and lay leaders in healthy congregations who are giving themselves to the work of Christ in their communities.”