Seed of Doubt Grows Empathetic Ministry
By Lindsay Peyton
The Rev. Mindy Zwirn’s ministry is out-of-the box. Her path to leading two small congregations -- Chapelwood UMC Nash and Redwater UMC – was circuitous but only made her leadership more empathetic and her commitment to serve stronger.
Zwirn grew up in the Catholic faith. When she was about 15 years old, she felt called to pursue ministry.
“As a Catholic, that means you have to join a convent,” she recalled. “And that was what I totally was ready to do.”
But then her mother had a baby, and Zwirn hoped that, one day, she too would become a parent.
“I thought God must have made a mistake,” she said. “And if he made a mistake about that, then what other mistakes did he make.”
That initial seed of doubt grew and grew.“I ended up leaving the church completely,” Zwirn said.
While she took a break from her former religious teachings, she never completely lost her belief in God and Jesus. She simply could not reconcile her thoughts with the Catholic traditions.
Then Zwirn discovered the United Methodist Church.
She moved with her husband David to Texarkana and assured him that they would find a community theatre where he could keep up his acting skills.
A Methodist pastor wound up being the theatre director. “He eased us into the church, until we were deep in it,” Zwirn said with a laugh.
One volunteer effort led to another, she explained. More and more responsibilities fell into her lap.
In the meantime, she learned about the Methodist faith for the first time, and immediately the teachings resonated with her.
For example, everyone is welcome at the communion table, Zwirn said. She started reading more about John Wesley and was captivated.
“He was so passionate, and I loved it,” she said. “I had a burning desire to spread this message of grace. I couldn’t stop talking about it – to everyone I met.”
The more she learned and started working in the church, the more her old yearning to preach resurfaced.
“It was time for me to stop ignoring it,” she said. “I was finding out more and more of what it took to be a shepherd for a small flock.”
Zwirn worked her way into ministering for two smaller churches. At first, she was nervous but soon the congregations surrounded her with encouragement.
“It was this incredible family,” she said. “They were like, ‘Just tell us what the Lord has to tell us. We’re listening.’”
Zwirn felt her job was to see where the churches could shine. “There’s a need that every congregation needs to fulfill,” she said. “That’s what a small church does, it stays nimble.”
One need in the community was the acceptance of LGBQT teens. In the small towns surrounding Texarkana, Zwirn said there were a number of teenage suicides related to the issue.
“It was breaking my heart, but I didn’t know what to do about it,” she said. “And I didn’t know how to do something about it at our church.”
Her leadership board surprised her by asking what they could do to help. Before long, the church began hosting a secular youth group every Thursday night, offering a safe space in the community.
Zwirn also hosts an “orphan’s Thanksgiving,” for individuals ostracized from their families or banished from their homes.
“Most of my personal experience has been wandering,” Zwirn said. “The fact that I wandered – and I did wander – helps me speak of the pain of being lost.”
She hopes to continue to offer a place of healing for those who might be in a similar position, especially for those who are looking for a spiritual path.
Brandi Woods met Zwirn when she first moved to Texarkana. “I watched her grow spiritually in leaps and bounds,” Woods said. “Even before Mindy was a preacher, she was always a leader.”
They soon became close friends and Woods joined the church when Zwirn became a minister.
Andrea Araiza met Zwirn though the community theatre. “We became friends right off the bat,” Araiza said. “We had a lot in common.”
Araiza grew up in the Baptist church and often felt that she did not belong. Like Zwirn, she had been divorced and traveled her own path.
“I saw Mindy do what she did,” Araiza recalled. “People respected her, even though she had flaws and had a history.”
Zwirn explained that everyone has a story – as well as a gift to share. “She told me that even your failures are a gift,” Araiza said. “That encouragement and acceptance made me blossom in the church.”
Now Araiza is a finance officer and treasurer for the church. She goes to every sermon that Zwirn leads.
“I hate to not go,” Araiza said. “It sounds like she’s talking straight to you, and it’s always just what you needed to hear that day.”
Araiza said that Zwirn helped her find her path – and her home.
Zwirn hopes to continue to build a community, while spreading the Gospel.
“The biggest thing that I learned in 10 years without a church, is that there is no place you can go where God won’t reveal himself somehow,” she said. “There’s no place where you are totally lost.”
God is always in the driver’s seat, Zwirn explained. “You’re always being watched and cared for,” she said. “God surrounds you with love. You just have to learn how to see it.”