When Herman Lightsey and his wife, Mary, accepted an invitation from their neighbors to attend a Methodist church service one Sunday in 1972, he had no idea that it would lead him down a path to becoming a major leader of discipleship within the church.
“Mary was a Lutheran and I was Baptist when we married,” Lightsey said. “I knew our faith was a topic that had to be addressed, but before it even came up for discussion, God placed us next door to this Methodist family. We were new to the area so they asked us to go to their church with them. We did, and the rest is history.” The Lightseys became Methodists and raised their two daughters as Methodists as well.
But that’s not all the history.
On March 5, Lightsey became the first certified Men’s Ministry Specialist in South Carolina and one of 16 in the national United Methodist Church. He was sworn in by the General Commission on United Methodist Men during a commissioning ceremony in Nashville.
Lightsey said the ultimate goal is to attract 75 men interested in becoming a specialist by 2012.
“It’s a long process and it’s not for everyone,” Lightsey said. “But for those who feel a calling to the church, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Lightsey’s pastor, the Rev. Joel Jones, approached him about becoming a specialist in 2007. He was already active in his church, Ashland UMC in Columbia, he said.
“I taught Sunday School and I was already a certified lay speaker and had gone on many of the retreats, taken a lot of the mentoring courses and participated in various workshops. All of that is part of the process of becoming a specialist,” Lightsey said.
As well as mandatory participation in his church, there were online courses he had to complete and several intensive papers had to be written and reviewed by district, state and national officers. His wife and his pastor had to agree to support him in the endeavor.
Because he is so active in his home church, he said his wife probably wouldn’t mind his new role. “I think Mary just assumed it was one more duty I was taking on for the church,” he laughed. “But she is behind me all the way.”
Lightsey also conducts workshops for men, is a certified lay speaker and represents the United Methodist Men on the District Council on Ministries. Lightsey is employed in the workman’s compensation industry, but said he is ready to embrace this new endeavor.
By definition, a specialist is the overall resource for men’s ministry within the Methodist church, Lightsey said.
“I’m more or less a conduit to men’s ministry in the church,” he said. “A specialist is a person who helps gets men’s groups started and recognizes the men in the church at all levels of service, from the minister to the usher.”
The mission statement for a specialist is that they are “to serve United Methodist lay and clergy leaders and their congregations in the ministry of Jesus Christ through men.”
Lightsey said the specialist program has endless potential for building up the church.
“I’m excited about what I hope it will do on the national level,” he said. “This is something that Christ is in the middle of. It’s not a ‘club,’ and we want to get the local churches to take advantage of our educational resources.”
Betty Void, the Columbia District United Methodist Women president said Lightsey is an excellent choice as the state’s first specialist.
“He has always been very involved in the UMM events,” she said. “He has a genuine love for mentoring the men and a humbling spirit that you can feel when he walks into a room.”
Lightsey said that he believes getting the men back into the church will bring the women and children back as well.
“If we can get the men interested, they will bring their families and the individual churches will grow.”
He said that there are different ways to involve men and get them interested in becoming a church member.
“You can’t take a man who has never gone to a formal church and ask him to lead the choir or be a lay speaker,” he said. “But you can invite him to be on the church softball team and let him meet the other members that way. We want to take them from whatever point they are at in their faith and bring them to a closer walk with Jesus.”