Stephen Shaphard’s ministry at Bartlett United Methodist Church is more than his clerical career. It’s a way of life. Citizens of Bartlett recognized his investments in the community and his love of serving it when they selected him as the 2016 Man of the Year.
“It’s important to me to connect to different areas of the community,” he said.
For example, under his leadership it’s been an intentional movement for BUMC to connect closely to the school system, whether that’s adopting a school, starting a school club or sharing resources. The church has offered space behind the church building for Bartlett City Schools to use for a rally. School officials are welcome to arrange the use of meeting spaces at the church. And the church is also in negotiations to sell its soccer fields to the school district.
“It enhances our witness to the community—how important the people of this community are to us,” Shaphard said.
He is quick to share the honor with excellent church staff, who he said have made his work so much easier. The staff and church members embody the Methodist church’s theology of a grace-oriented church, where everything comes of God’s grace.
He sees the church as an anchor for west Bartlett, and he helps it to be integrated in the city’s functions. He’s good friends with the school superintendent and the mayor, and he is a member of the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce. Some of Bartlett’s original sesquicentennial plays this summer were performed in the church’s old chapel.
“We like to be in the midst of things,” Shaphard said.
A community survey for three miles in every direction around BUMC revealed that finances and healthcare are among the area’s strongest needs, so a new outreach program is the hiring of a parish nurse to provide medical care to underserved people. And the church recognized that the local Latino community could use more outreach, so it met that need with a part-time Latino pastor.
The church has even sponsored financial planning classes from America’s financial guru, Dave Ramsey, who is a national best-selling author and radio host.
On a more individual level of financial assistance, the church has helped an elderly church member who fled the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and bought a house sight unseen in Bartlett. He soon found that it had no working air conditioning or heating, so members pitched in to fix the systems for him. Now the man is one of the church’s most active members in Sunday School, Bible studies and showing up every week for services. Shaphard said this friend is a dear soul who loosens everyone up.
Shaphard said he appreciates the friendly, safe, small-town feel that Bartlett exudes, despite the city having a population that is approaching 60,000. His approach to the ministry works well in that setting: Lead by example and offer coaching and encouragement to church members and the community at large.
His go-to example to explain his approach is to describe how some basketball teams once had player-coaches who guided their teams and also played alongside them.
“I liked that concept,” Shaphard said. “That’s kind of what I’ve adopted, to be that player-coach.”
Originally from Memphis, he came to Bartlett in 2007. It’s his third church where he’s served about 10 years or more, including Mullins United Methodist Grove, 4 N. Mendenhall Rd, Memphis; St. Stephen’s United Methodist, 3981 Macon Rd, Memphis; and Ellendale United Methodist Church, 7205 Centralia Road, Memphis. He also spent eight years in western Kentucky.
United Methodist churches often move their pastors around to new communities, but Shaphard hopes to be able to continue his work in Bartlett and retire here in a few years. Meanwhile, he wants to investigate how the church can help to support good relationships between the community and its law enforcement. He plans to keep going with quarterly Church without Doors at FedEx Forum to minister to the homeless. He also is pleased that the church is so heavily mission-oriented with members serving throughout the U.S. in remote locations like Alaska and impoverished areas of Appalachia, as well as international loactions such as India and Mexico.
Now in its 39th year, the Appalachian service project has included Shaphard among its volunteers, and he was the first senior pastor from the church to attend.
He is investing in these and many other many projects to add value right up until his last day. He’s told his church members, “By the time I leave, I want you to be the friendliest church in Shelby County.”
Shaphard is married and has two grown children and five grandchildren, and he fills his leisure time with racquetball, walks, workouts, occasional rounds of golf and plenty of time with the grandchildren. When it’s time to work, he’s happy to head to the church and serve, too.
“I enjoy what the Lord’s called me to do,” he said. “It’s not always the easiest work in the world, but to me it’s the most meaningful.”
Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to email@example.com.