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|Varnado new Methodist minister|
As a newly-ordained Methodist minister, Ray Varnado was looking for a town and country church in need of a pastor and in need of a spiritual uplifting.
He got double that.
"I was looking for a church in need of a turnaround," Varnado said. "I was told there were two churches that would be a blessing for us and to us."
Those churches happened to be Sevier Methodist Church in Ferriday and Vidalia First United Methodist Church. Varnado was named pastor of those churches and arrived with his wife, Donna, in the parish on June 25.
"We hit the ground running, but we've been extremely blessed by everyone we've met," Varnado said. "The people have just been awesome. I see a lot of Christian movement in and around the parish and I find both churches filled with God-fearing people full of spirit. They have been very welcoming and inviting to the point I know both churches are going to grow."
Varnado was born in Fort Benning, Ga., but grew up in Washington Parish just outside of Franklinton where his parents were raised.
Varnado, who has two uncles and five cousins who are Baptist ministers, said he first got the call to be a minister at the age of 20, but did not answer the call at that time.
Varnado married his wife, Donna, in 1977.
"She was my closest neighbor," he said.
Varnado attended Northwestern State for three semesters before going to work in the oil field.
"I felt the call again, but still wasn't answering," he said. "I went back to school, attending Southeastern Louisiana, and finished up in 1981 with a degree in pre-law."
The 52-year-old Varnado realized law school was not what he wanted to do upon graduation, so he went to work as an insurance adjuster near Hammond.
"We had a place on the river where we fished and hunted," he said.
In 1987, Varnado started Varnado Adjustment Service along with a partner and Donna joined the team in 1989 after working as a legal secretary.
"We were working claims all over southeast Louisiana and south Mississippi," he said.
Donna's mother passed away in 1995, which led to another calling for Ray.
"Her faith was so powerful and her assurance about where she was going," Varnado said. "I witnessed a faith I had never seen before through that."
Varnado, who along with his wife was attending a Methodist Church at the time, began ministering in nursing homes, teaching Bible classes and lay preaching.
"The Lord talked to me even more and around 1999 I started the process of being ordained," he said, "I thought I could do that part-time, but there was no way I could keep Varnado Adjustment Service going. We closed the door to the business in April of 2002."
Varnado attended St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City in June of 2002 and served two churches in the area at the time.
One church doubled, while the other tripled in size while they were serving.
Varnado graduated from the seminary in December of 2005.
Varnado became a probationary elder in 2006 before being ordained as an elder last month.
Varnado was part of a United Methodist Mission Zone team that served four churches in New Orleans before becoming senior pastor of a church in Algiers in 2007.
"We had used up all our resources because of Hurricane Katrina and I realized I was not going to be able to do some of the things I wanted to," he said. "I asked for an opportunity for us to serve a town and country church in need of a pastor. And we have been blessed to have been called here."
Varnado said he has enjoyed the challenge of serving two churches.
"You have to coordinate your time equally and spend enough time in each community getting to know the people," he said. "I love being involved in a community. I've been impressed with the people, impressed with the chambers of commerce and with the caring people at Riverland Medical Center. I love seeing the cotton fields, cornfields and soybeans. I really like seeing the deer stands on the side of the road. I love hearing the excitement of people talking about hunting that big buck. This is a place we love calling home."
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