By Melissa Hinnen*
The Rev. Dr. Denise Honeycutt, a pastor from Virginia and former Global Ministries missionary who has a background in the local church, global mission, and theological education has been nominated by the personnel committee of the General Board of Global Ministries to serve as the new deputy general secretary of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
The action is subject to the affirmative vote of the full board of directors at the end of October. In the meantime, Honeycutt has been appointed by Thomas Kemper, the general secretary (chief executive) of Global Ministries to head up the agency’s relief and development unit on an interim basis, effective September 16.
Noting her eight years as a director of Global Ministries, including serving on the UMCOR board, Kemper said, “I have known Denise for many years, since the time she served as a missionary in Nigeria, sharing the simple life of the community in Bambur. I am excited to have her on our leadership team at Global Ministries as we work to be an expression of the worldwide mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church.”
UMCOR is a major Protestant disaster relief and development organization and is part of the General Board of Global Ministries. It is well known for staying on the scene of disasters to help with long-term restoration of lives and communities. UMCOR, which operates internationally, often remains in a disaster area after most other humanitarian organizations have gone. In the United States, much of its efforts are coordinated through United Methodist annual conference disaster networks.
A Heart for Connectional Mission
A number of years after being ordained in the Virginia Annual Conference, Honeycutt and her husband, the Rev. Pat Watkins, answered a call to missionary service. They were appointed to a remote village in Bambur, Nigeria, where Honeycutt taught Biblical studies and theology at Banyam Theological Seminary and Watkins taught vocational training for mechanics.
Recalling their service as the “hardest best years of our lives,” Honeycutt says that as the only missionaries in the immediate area, they were able to truly become part of the community. “I learned so much from the people about what it means to be financially impoverished but spiritually rich.” She continued, “One of the gifts of the United Methodist connection is that mission doesn’t just go one way. The community in Bambur filled our lives with so much love and joy.”
Explaining the impact of UMCOR kits, Honeycutt told the story of sitting on her porch one evening in Bambur. She heard people chanting and realized they were saying, “The kits are coming. The kits are coming.” The next day a big truck pulled up to the elementary school and each child received a school kit.
“I had always been part of putting kits together in the local church,” Honeycutt said. “But this was the first time I experienced the joy of what it meant for a child to receive one. The children were amazed—so thrilled to have their own schoolbag, full of supplies.”
One Mission: God’s Mission
After training one of the local seminary students to replace her position in Nigeria, Honeycutt and Watkins returned to the US. In her role as a mission interpreter in residence for the Southeastern Jurisdiction and later as the director of mission and global justice for the Virginia Annual Conference, Honeycutt continued to engage in connecting missionaries with local churches and sharing the work that United Methodists are doing through UMCOR.
“Everything that UMCOR does is possible because of the faithfulness of people in the local church,” Honeycutt said. “United Methodists in Virginia, Nebraska, California, and around the world love Jesus, give to the One Great Hour of Sharing, and create kits to distribute in disasters. UMCOR and Global Ministries are extensions of the work they are doing to live out God’s mission.”
Kemper expressed appreciation for her connectional experience and expertise saying, “Denise brings the experience of the worldwide church, both as a missionary and a conference leader for mission and global justice, and comes to us now as the lead pastor of a large church in the Virginia Annual Conference.”
Honeycutt’s current appointment is at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Fairfax, VA, a church, she said, that has a wonderful congregation that loves mission. While she was not looking for a reason to leave, Honeycutt told her congregation, “When I was in college I put an index card on my mirror with the word ‘yes,’ which represented my stance in life toward God.” This openness, she said, has freed her to be available for how God will use her. “It is amazing how God uses ordinary people to do God’s good work. Every day I pray that I will live today so that I’ll be ready for whatever comes tomorrow.”
Passionate, Enthusiastic, Follower of Jesus Christ
The granddaughter and great granddaughter of Baptist pastors in North Carolina, Honeycutt first felt called to mission at nine years old. She knew she wanted to give her whole life to God and made a covenant that if God “kept the joy and excitement for ministry alive in me, then I would take that as a sign that God wanted me to continue working for God’s mission, grounded in Christ, lived out in relationships.” And she noted, “Joy has been a constant companion in my ministry.”
After receiving a bachelor of arts in religion and education from Campbell University, Honeycutt studied at the University of Wales, where she earned a bachelor of divinity and for the first time met a woman pastor.
While she had been ordained in the Baptist Church, there was no place for her to serve as a pastor, and she felt “theologically called to a new church home.” It was through her experience as a hospital chaplain at Duke University Medical Center that she began to immerse herself in The United Methodist Church.
She was ordained as a United Methodist deacon in 1989 and an elder in 1991 in the Virginia Annual Conference. Her husband, Pat is also a United Methodist pastor and currently is a United Methodist Church and Community worker serving as executive director of Caretakers of God’s Creation.
In 2007, Honeycutt received a doctor of ministries from Wesley Seminary. Her dissertation was on the topic of “Transformational Mission, Biblical Hospitality, and the Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina.”
A district superintendent once introduced Honeycutt as a passionate, enthusiastic, follower of Jesus Christ. UMCOR President Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of Wisconsin agrees. “Her enthusiasm for mission is contagious, and she will be a wonderful face and voice for UMCOR in the United States and around the world.”
*Melissa Hinnen is the director of content and public information for the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries