Meet the new clergy in the West District

by | Sep 15, 2020 | West District Newsletter

Wasson, Rev. David

Rev. Dave Wasson, Dove of the Desert UMC

David Wasson is a pastor with over twenty years of experience in local churches, new faith starts, and non-profit organizations. He is a Phoenix native who received his M.Div from Fuller Seminary in 2014. He has been married to his wife, Katie, for eighteen years, and they have a four-year-old son and a six-year-old French Bulldog. He enjoys teaching and coaching, and occasionally winning chili cook-offs and salsa competitions. In his spare time, he enjoys photography, gaming, cooking, reading, and very long naps.

Rev. Bob Gilfert, Chino Valley UMC

As Ken Kesey would say, “What a long strange trip it has been. Sorry, couldn’t resist. My call to ministry came from literally growing up in church. My mother was the head of the drama department for a good sized Baptist church in Fern Creek, Kentucky. Many days were spent rambling through our historic church as my mom attended to working on the next drama. My first exposure to The United Methodist Church was attending our Scout meetings which were sponsored by the local United Methodist Church. Scout Sunday gave me a realization that their form of worship was very different from the way I had been exposed to worship. I liked it! Fast forward many years and many explorations in different schools of spiritual discipline and I became involved in The United Methodist Church, first as laity, then the call came, and some 25 years later here I am. Eighteen years as a vocational minister. I’ve made a good effort to totally retire but God keeps on calling me back. As I’ve replied to many parishioners question, “How long are you going to be here?” I can only reply, “When it stops being fun!” Right now I’m having a blast.”

Pastor Ian Oliver, Calvary UMC

Pastor Ian Oliver lives in Peoria, Arizona with his wife Sharmilah and 14 year-old son. Ian is the former lay leader of Spirit Song UMF in Peoria, AZ where he started and led a Men’s Bible Study group for the past three years. Ian has provided support in the order of worship with the welcome, children’s ministry, offering, and sermons. He is currently attending Fuller Theological Seminary School working towards completing a M.Div. Ian works full-time at Farmers Insurance Group, enjoys the outdoors, long walks, travel, and professional American Football.

Gina Polland, City Square UMF

Gina Pollard is a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, a Certified Trauma Support Specialist, and a Life Transition Coach.

Gina helps people deal with grief, loss, past abuse issues, and the segue of moving into new life stages. Her experience in leading support groups for abuse, and in providing pastoral care, gives her an in-depth understanding of what it means to feel deep pain, need a glimmer of hope, and do the work necessary to have a fulfilling life.

A self-described hope junkie, Gina calling is to journey with others by helping them validate the whole of who they are in the world and in their lives and to move forward with hope and confidence.

Gina earned her Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. She holds certifications from The Grief Recovery Institute and the Trauma Institute International.

Rev. Efrain Zavala, Prescott UMC, Associate

I was born in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, México. My family and I moved to Arizona when I was 17, yet we were close enough to the border that we could spend our weekends in Mexico. I attended the Methodist Church in Mexico, where I had the opportunity to serve in youth and music ministries. In 2009, I had the opportunity to serve as a Lay Person Assigned in Somerton, while I attended Grad School. I married Michelle, a kindergarten teacher, in 2010. 2011 was an eventful year: I finished my master’s degree in Counseling, became a U.S. citizen, and moved to New Jersey to attend seminary. In 2013, our daughter Michaela was born and, in 2014, I finished my M.Div. While we really enjoyed our time in New Jersey, we could not stay away from the desert for too long, so, in 2016, we moved back to Arizona. Since then, we have been serving in the South District until this year, when I was appointed as an Associate Pastor to Prescott UMC. Some of the things I enjoy are playing guitar, playing chess, and going to the movies, which, of course, has not been possible in the last few months. Michelle is currently working to get her M.Div. at Claremont School of Theology. Michaela currently attends 2nd grade and enjoys singing, dancing, and downloading games on my phone.

Jelinek, Rev. Tom

Rev. Tom Jelinek, First UMC-Glendale

I was born in Beloit, Wisconsin and spent my early childhood first in Chicago, then in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When I was eight, my family headed west, first to Deming, New Mexico, then to Tucson, where I spent the rest of my childhood, youth, and college years. I began attending St. James United Methodist in Tucson at the age of 18, and began my relationship with Christ there. Several years later, while at the University of Arizona, I moved my membership to nearby Catalina United Methodist.

While I was at Catalina, I felt the call to ministry. It took a while, but with God’s persistent invitation, I began the journey to ordination. I entered Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. in 1990, and over the next five years, earned Master’s Degrees in Divinity and Youth Ministry, while serving as the Director of Youth and Family Ministries at the United Christian Parish in Reston, Virginia. In 1995, I returned to our Desert Southwest Conference, and began my service at Trinity Heights UMC-Flagstaff. From there, I moved to Los Arcos UMC-Scottsdale, St. Mark’s UMC-Tucson, New Song UMC-Surprise, Heritage UMC-Las Vegas, University UMC-Las Vegas, First UMC-Yuma, Patagonia Community United Methodist, and a few weeks ago, began my ministry at First UMC of Glendale.

During my years of ministry, I’ve always enjoyed working with youth groups. I’ve deaned and served camps at Mingus Mountain, Pine Canyon, and Potosi Pines, and have helped plan and lead many district and conference youth events over the last 35 years. I also feel a strong calling to work on social issues, have served on local church and Conference boards of Church and Society, and have worked with interfaith organizations all over our Conference.

On a personal level, I enjoy spending time with family and friends; reading history, literature, and technical subjects; watching movies; and traveling. Music has been and is a lifelong interest and pleasure. I love virtually all kinds of music and enjoy singing and playing guitar. When time and resources permit, I also have a hobby of working on old radios, TV’s, phonographs, recorders, etc., and the occasional vintage auto.

What’s your story? I’d love to hear! Let’s get together and compare our journeys!

Fernandes, Rev. Maria Antonieta

Rev. Antonieta Fernandes, Christ Community UMC

My name is Maria Antonieta Fernandes. I was ordained as an Elder in full connection by the Desert Southwest Conference. I am the pastor at Christ Community UMC in Avondale, AZ. I have been the pastor leader planting a church in Las Vegas, NV, Global Community UMC. I am part of the Health and Pension Benefits committee at the Desert Southwest Conference. My first appointment was at Green Valley UMC, Henderson, NV as an Associate Pastor.

I was born and grew up in El Salvador to parents who raised me vigorously in the Catholic Church and its traditions. Because of my compassion for people, my first professional career choice was in medicine. I became a nurse in 1987 and took care the sick while also working in preventive care. This career gave me the opportunity of sharing the healing power of God’s word.

Many people know El Salvador has struggled economically and for over a century has been a country torn between peasantry and privilege. In 1980, civil war broke out in the country and continued until the 1992 signing of the peace accords. The loss of life during this period was a global atrocity. Many of the population who died in the war were women, children, and clergy. My family was in danger of losing our lives so on September 7, 1990, we moved to the United States as refugees of war with political asylum status. This was hard for me because I only spoke Spanish and had to learn English to be able to get my nurse license and communicate well in order to integrate and assimilate into this culture.

I have four adult kids. The oldest is a boy and the rest are three beautiful girls. My son has a degree in Psychology, one of my daughters is a nurse, the another one work as an account representative, and the youngest one is still in the University pursuing an Optometrist degree. I also have six grandkids, Three boys and three girls.

I was introduced to The United Methodist Church and began participating actively at Las Naciones Hispanic Church and represent it as the Lay leader at the Annual Conference for several years. At the University UMC, I was the youth director for five years. While working with the youth and different committees at University UMC, I hear God calling me into ministry. I was participating in a revival at Los Seguidores de Cristo Hispanic Church, and while praying, I heard a sweet soft voice saying “Antonieta alimenta mis ovejas” (Antonieta feed my lambs). At first, I did not understand what it meant but after praying and fasting, I found out that the Lord clearly was calling me to ministry. I promised him to obey if he led the way and in 2015, I completed the Masters in Divinity.

At the moment, my theology of worship has a multicultural approach. To be effective with this kind of theology, I have studied different cultures of people to be able to understand what they believe and how they communicate. Hispanics have so many different cultures within the Hispanic umbrella; but that’s true also within the Asian, African American, Anglo, Hindu, Native Indians, and others important cultures within the United States. I feel that even though the first encounters with people from other cultures can be kind of uncomfortable, under the grace of God, nothing is impossible. By respecting their beliefs, we can accomplish what Jesus sent us to do: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Rev. Tom Butcher

Rev. Tom Butcher, First UMC-Sun City

I am Pastor Tom Butcher and I am delighted to be the new pastor at First UMC Sun City. Though I currently have my home in Texas, I am equally at home here in Phoenix.  In the past I have served several churches in the East Valley including Velda Rose UMC, First UMC in Gilbert, and St. Matthew UMC, and Lakeview UMC. I have also served as the Conference’s programming director, as a district superintendent, and as the denomination’s director for New Church Starts across these United States. I retired two years ago but missed preaching and now God has provided me this opportunity to preach and serve.

It goes without saying, these are certainly challenging times we find ourselves in. Every day we are all faced with confusing and conflicting news about the coronavirus and what we need to do to stay healthy for ourselves and our neighbors. As for the church and our church life, you should know that I am working to provide the possible on-line worship service at First UMC, Sun City.

My personal belief is that there are two wonderful words that are repeated over and over in the bible, “Fear not.” To be sure, fear is not always bad. It keeps us from hurting ourselves such as fearing a hot stove or keeping us from getting too close to the edge of a high cliff. However, when fear paralyzes us and keeps us from moving forward that fear is not useful. I want you to join with me to “fear not”, and to pray unceasingly for the world to come together and overcome the coronavirus and the other paralyzing pandemic, racial injustice.


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Author: Carla Whitmire

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