ENID, Okla. — First United Methodist Church, 401 W. Randolph, welcomed a new pastor this week, with the arrival Monday of the Rev. Emery Mason.

Mason is taking over the lead pastor position at First United Methodist after the retirement of the Rev. Randy Mitchell, who came to the church in 2013 and preached his last sermon as lead pastor Sunday.

The Rev. Susan Southall is remaining as associate pastor at First United Methodist, and is joined by the Rev. Michael Robnett, formerly pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Enid. Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church confirmed Christ UMC is slated to be assigned a new pastor in early July.

For Mason, the assignment to First United Methodist is a return to the roots of his early days in ministry, and a return to pastoral work after eight years as a district superintendent.

Originally from Oklahoma City, Mason said he first felt the call to ministry when he was in junior high school, but followed a passion for debate to accept a scholarship to Northeastern Oklahoma State University in Tahlequah. He later transferred to University of Oklahoma, with plans of going on to law school.

But, he said the call to ministry kept nagging at him, and during his time at OU he felt strongly called to change schools and pursue studies in ministry. It was hard to give up his plans, Mason said, but he felt going into law no longer was his calling.

"It was like God was saying, 'That was all fine up to now, but I actually have other plans for you,'" Mason said.

Still unsure of whether he wanted to go into ministry, Mason said he decided to just be faithful, and follow the call to study ministry. That call led him to Bethany Nazarene University, where he graduated in 1980.

His studies at Bethany Nazarene firmed up his resolve to go into full-time ministry, a calling he disclosed to his pastor. Two weeks later, he got a call from his district superintendent, asking him to fill a vacant pulpit.

"He said, 'I have a church opening up in two weeks,' and 'Would you like to take it?'" Mason said. He said he and his wife, Lisa, "prayed quickly, and then I called him back said we'd take it."

The new position to preach in Covington and Jet brought the Masons to Enid, where Lisa found work at Phillips Theological Seminary and at Garfield County Court House.

Mason studied at Phillips Theological while preaching in Covington, and earned his master's degree in divinity there in 1986.

After completing his assignment in Covington and Jet, Mason went on to serve as pastor in Tuttle, Mooreland, Sulphur and Bartlesville.

He then served eight years as a district superintendent for Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church — the maximum term for that position — and remains on the executive committee of the board of directors for Circle of Care, the UMC nonprofit foster care agency in Oklahoma.

Mason said he's glad to be returning to Enid, and to one-on-one pastoral work in the church.

"My heart is in the local church," Mason said. "Having an opportunity in a local church is exciting, and to be able to come back to Enid, where I have some roots, is a real thrill."

Mason said his greatest thrill in pastoral work is seeing God transform people's lives.

"One of the most exciting things is when God takes a person and makes them new, or makes them more than they have been ... that's exciting," Mason said.

In a letter sent to First United Methodist in advance of his arrival, Mason said he looked forward to preaching and teaching a message of God's love and grace.

"We live in a time when there is much uncertainty and challenge, but I am convinced that the message of God's love and grace is as important as it has ever been," he wrote.

"I believe God loves us all and that there is nothing as beautiful as when God's love enables someone to blossom and grow with a radiance that changes everything," Mason wrote. "I believe God invites us to be a part of the work of redeeming and transforming the world that God loves so much."

Outside of church life, Mason's hobbies have included service with the Lions and Kiwanis clubs, poetry, the martial art of aikido, photography, music and time in nature.

Mason and his wife, Lisa, have two grown sons, David and Kevin, both of whom are married, and three grandsons.

Mason will preach his first sermon at First United Methodist on Sunday. He said his sermon, titled "Seize the Opportunity to do Something Great," will focus on possibilities for the future and not growing weary in doing good works.

For information on First United Methodist Church, go to http://www.firstchurchenid.com.

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com. He can be reached at jneal@enidnews.com.

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I am a retired Naval Officer and small business owner, outside of my work at the News & Eagle. My wife Tammy and I enjoy serving together at church and attending Gaslight and ESO. We have two daughters, three dogs and little free time.