Earheart, Engle, Gilbert received Denman Evangelism Award during 2015 Memphis Annual Conference
From left are the Memphis Conference's 2015 Denman Evangelism award winners at the 2015 Memphis Annual Conference in Jackson, Tenn., in June where they received their awards: Mark Earheart, Susan Engle and Hailey Gilbert. (Photos by Lane Gardner Camp)
By Casey Northcutt Watson
The Memphis Conference honored three people with the Harry Denman Evangelism Award during June’s 2015 Memphis Annual Conference in Jackson, Tenn. Dr. David Russell, Memphis Conference chair of evangelism, presented awards on behalf of the Memphis Conference Committee on Evangelism in three different categories—clergy, laity and youth.
The awards went to Rev. Mark Earheart, of Dresden UMC in Dresden, Tenn.; Susan Engle of Trinity UMC in Paducah, Ky.; and Hailey Gilbert of Collierville UMC in Collierville, Tenn.
The Foundation for Evangelism established the Denman Award more than 30 years ago to honor those who have demonstrated extraordinary efforts in Wesleyan evangelism.
Rev. Earhart received the Denman Award for clergy. He serves as the pastor of Dresden First UMC, where he encourages his congregation to reach out to its surrounding community.
The Denman Award for laity went to Engle, who has recently transitioned from the role of laity to clergy. She now serves as the pastor of Trinity UMC. She formerly held the position of lay resource leader for the former Paducah (now Purchase) District and has been instrumental in the establishment of the Generative Leadership Academy. She also currently is chair of the Memphis Conference's Intentional Discipleship Action Team.
Gilbert received the Denman Award for youth. The 18-year-old recently graduated from Collierville High School in Collierville, Tenn., and has been very active at Collierville UMC. As a junior, she led a volunteer trip to help Hurricane Sandy survivors.
Dresden First UMC member Linda Akers, who nominated Earheart for the Denman Award, says her pastor works hard to make sure his church is open and inviting. He tells his congregation to welcome everyone to the church.
“He preaches loving the unlovable, reaching out to those who cannot return the favor and giving everyone chances, regardless of their financial status, age, gender, race, ethnicity or influence,” she says. “Mark practices what he preaches. He doesn’t just evangelize the upper class—paying people. He doesn’t care whether they have money or not.”
Akers also says after people visit a Dresden First UMC service, Earheart, in return, visits them at home and invites them back. In addition, he supports a Wednesday night program for school-age children that teaches Bible messages, and he currently leads the church’s largest and most diverse confirmation class. He also has helped establish a program in which church volunteers share lunch with elementary children who rarely have visitors eat with them at school.
“He makes every effort to promote the cause of Christ through evangelism and mission and encourages our church to be focused on evangelism through mission,” Akers says.
Born in 1948, Earheart grew up in Nashville, Tenn., and Mt. Juliet, Tenn. He served three years in the United States Army, from 1968-1971, including a tour in Vietnam. He also attended Middle State Tennessee University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., where he graduated. He worked as a trucker and dairy farmer before feeling God’s call to become a pastor at age 36. In 1997, he earned a master of divinity degree from Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tenn. He has two children, Paul Dawn Churchwell and Stephen Mark Earheart Jr., from a marriage to his late wife, Judy. He is currently married to Mary Dawn.
Since Engle became the pastor of Trinity UMC in June 2014, the church has grown in several ways. It established a concert band through which the congregation’s musicians can showcase their talents. Volunteers began reading to local elementary students weekly. The youth group grew to include a Japanese foreign exchange student and the children’s choir ministry expanded to include new leadership.
“Her love of discipleship and deep desire for people to not only know and love Christ but to [also] be equipped so that they might make disciples has borne fruit in numerous churches across our conference,” Purchase District Superintendent Sky McCracken says. “I can think of no one else more deserving of this award.”
Sue has recently trained to be a licensed local pastor. She has attended the Wesley Theological Academy for lay staff development, and she attended the Academy of Spiritual Formation. She earned her Christian Education Certification, as well. She is married to Mark Engle, her college sweetheart, and they have three children, Matthew, Timothy and Samuel, as well as two grandchildren, Nathaniel and Zachary.
For someone so young, Gilbert has accomplished much in ministry, according to Kristine Konsowitz, director of youth ministries for Collierville UMC.
“Hailey has a passion for helping others experience God’s transforming love through Jesus Christ by serving,” she says.
The daughter of John and Stephanie Gilbert, the teen has been an active member of Collierville UMC since 2006. She also has participated in numerous service projects, including serving pancakes in inner city Memphis, ministering with several Mountain T.O.P. (Tennessee Outreach Project) efforts in the Cumberland Mountains and working with Rice and Beans ministry in Costa Rica.
In 2012, Gilbert also heard about Hurricane Sandy and felt compassion for those who had lost their homes and possessions in the storm.
“Hailey felt called to serve Hurricane victims because her family suffered during a hurricane in Florida and relocated to the Memphis area due to their loss,” Konsowitz says.
The youth minister encouraged Gilbert to meet with Memphis Conference disaster relief personnel to find out how she could help. The teen then spent the next year researching relief efforts and eventually led a volunteer team to the affected area to work with the Greater New Jersey Conference’s “Future with Hope” project.
The volunteer team included eight high school girls and several adults. They helped survivors rebuild after the storm, and they facilitated relationships between the United Methodist Church, local government and residents in an Asian-American community.
“In 32 years of youth ministry I cannot think of a student with more passion for serving others so they may experience God’s transforming love through Jesus Christ,” Konsowitz says.
Gilbert intends to continue this life of service by pursuing a career in nursing. She will attend the University of Memphis in the fall.