Lauren Wood / The Natchez Democrat — The Rev. Nance Hixon is the new pastor with Grace United Methodist Church. Hixon arrived in Natchez in June, and is in his first pastoral position after graduating from Duke University Divinity School.

Hixson brings youthful exuberance to God’s age-old call

Published 12:01am Sunday, November 11, 2012

It only took the congregation of Grace United Methodist Church a week or two to stop joking that their new pastor looked like he could be their grandson.

“I’m still getting started here,” Hixon said. “(This week) was my first funeral, but it has been really easy to find a place here at Grace. It’s an easy place to get going, but I’m still trying to find the right paths.”

Hixon comes to Natchez straight from seminary at Duke University Divinity School, but the Louisiana-native started his studies much closer to the Miss-Lou at LSU.

“My classes ended in May, so I guess my career path consisted of packing up a U-Haul in June and taking 85-South and 20-West,” he said.

Although Hixon has already created a good relationship with his congregation, he is still trying to find his path in his new home.

“My goal I guess right now, as someone new to Natchez and Mississippi, is to try to get a sense of where God is at work in this community and jump on board with that.”

Hixon said the congregation at Grace United Methodist consists mostly of older members who have raised families that have since moved away from Natchez. He said knowing the church’s demographics made him a little uneasy at first.

“I knew coming in that it would be an older congregation, and I am young, and I look a whole lot younger than I am,” he said. “So it made me a little nervous coming in, but I thought hopefully they would take me seriously. They reassured me, and it hasn’t been an issue.”

The leaders of the church met with Hixon when he started, and everyone has a positive outlook about what Hixon can bring to the church, he said.

“They have been very helpful, and we are looking ahead and happy for the things that could come for the church,” he said. “In my first meeting with the leaders, they were optimistic about what the congregation can do and having a role in the community.”

Hixon said Grace United Methodist already had a working relationship with the humane society, and he hopes to continue that work.

Hixon knew he found his calling when he became a Christian in the late 1990s, he said.

“It was the only thing I felt like I could do for a long time,” he said.

He graduated from LSU with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy with a concentration on religious studies. He went from Baton Rouge to Durham, N.C., for three years of seminary school.

Hixon said he was unsure of what path to follow once he arrived at Duke Seminary School, but the United Methodist Church pulled him in and gave him his direction.

“I had no clue what path to take, and seminary is not the place to be if you don’t know where you’re going,” he said. “In North Carolina the United Methodist Church said, ‘Hey, we really want you.’

They were affirming and said, ‘Look, we feel like this is what God has called you to do. It was really a Godsend.”

Hixon and his wife, Emily, also wanted to get back closer to home — Monroe, La., for Nance and Baton Rouge for Emily.

“I think they got us as close to Louisiana as possible,” he joked. “I had been to Natchez 1,000 times just never lived here.”

Hixon replaces the Rev. Darian Duckworth, who after five years of service to Grace United Methodist has moved on to Cleveland. Hixon said Duckworth has been very helpful in his transition into the position.

The new pastor is looking forward to all the events that the holiday season brings to the church, and he is excited about sharing the holidays with his congregation, he said.

But while he shares in the joy of the holidays, he also hopes to help the people of Grace United Methodist to realize just what they are celebrating.

“We’re in a part of the country where everyone grew up going to church. It’s in the water,” he said. “I hope I can come help people that are really used to Christianity see that it is really a beautiful thing and powerful.

“We should try to give it our time and listen to it and let it tell us all of its crazy message. It’s not something we can view as comfortable.”