Editor's note: This is the second in a series about new religious leaders in the Oklahoma City metro area. For information about more new faces, see Page 2D.
What's an ordained Baptist minister from New York City doing in an Oklahoma City United Methodist Church?
Preaching and teaching.
The Rev. Semaj Vanzant, the new pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, 1006 NE 17, grins when asked what led him to leave his post at a large New York Baptist church for a tiny United Methodist congregation in the metro.
“I'm beyond denominations,” he said.
“My goal or aspiration is to be aligned with the Gospel of the Bible.”
Vanzant, 27, became pastor of Christ Church in December 2011, preaching his first sermon on Christmas Day. He and his wife, Carla, have a 1-year-old son.
He said he is an ordained Baptist preacher, but he actually grew up in the United Methodist Church in his native New Orleans.
Vanzant said he was first approached about the pastor's post at Christ Church by a close family friend who helps the United Methodist Church find dynamic clergy to lead Methodist congregations. Vanzant said he didn't know a lot about Oklahoma.
He said he visited the metro area in July 2011 and initially rejected the idea of leading the church not too far from the state Capitol and nearby hospital complex. Christ Church is neighbor to another congregation, Corpus Christi Catholic Church.
The Rev. Frankye A. Johnson, superintendent of the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference's South Oklahoma City District, said she was impressed with Vanzant from the start.
“He is a gift,” she said.
Change of heart
Vanzant said he said goodbye to Johnson and Oklahoma City after that first visit, thinking it was for good. He said he returned to his post as pastor-in-residence at Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, but spent a couple of sleepless nights that convinced him that he needed to rethink his decision. He said he and his wife returned to the Oklahoma City church in September and he preached a sermon to the small but committed group of people there for Sunday worship.
Vanzant said on his second look at the church and its members, he saw passionate people, loving families, a community in need of outreach and something else:
“One thing I saw when I came here was immense potential,” he said.
He said he and his wife decided that his first senior pastorate would be in Oklahoma City after all.
Vanzant isn't afraid of change, he said. His change of heart about Christ Church didn't come as a surprise to him, because the Lord has caused him to modify his plans before.