First Christian has new pastor in Wheeler Hughes


June 26, 2019

He was looking to lead a church in Tucumcari. A church in Tucumcari was looking for a new pastor.

Those two goals recently were met with one fell swoop when Wheeler Hughes became pastor of First Christian Church in Tucumcari.

Hughes, a 1996 graduate of Tucumcari High School, returned to Quay County less than two years ago with his wife of 15 years, Lauren, and their four children to live in the small settlement of Hudson, halfway between Tucumcari and Logan off U.S. 54.

Previously, when he wasn't ranching in Texas Hill Country, Hughes and his wife had engaged in Christian mission trips to Nicaragua, Singapore and Indonesia, assisted in disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina and wildfires in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and organized a prayer meeting in drought-stricken Texas in 2011 to pray for rain.

Hughes said he and his wife wanted to continue those ministering efforts in his home county.

“Our point to moving up here was to do ministry,” Hughes said Friday afternoon in his church's office at 1701 S. Fourth St. with an open Bible sitting nearby. “If this hadn't come up, we were in the works to plan a church here.”

Hughes said one of his goals at First Christian Church was to “grow the church and the community.”

He added: “I stole this from our pastor in our church in Texas. The motto I brought with me is, 'Exalt, engage and enrich.' Exalt God, engage the culture and enrich the Christ follower.”

David Beal, president of the church's board of directors, said during a telephone interview the board hired Hughes for a variety of reasons — he was “a hometown guy,” his ministry experience, his enthusiasm, his knowledge of the Bible, his sermons and his cowboy-church background.

“His style and demeanor fit in with the congregation we have and what we're used to,” Beal added.

Beal said First Christian Church had been without a full-time pastor for about a year after David McVey left to take another position in Ruidoso. The church had used a string of fill-in pastors in the interim.

Hughes holds no pastoral training and is self-taught in his faith, but said he learned a lot from his old cowboy-church leader in the Lone Star State.

“I've studied, studied, studied,” he said. “I've been blessed to have good friends and a good pastor down in Texas Hill Country.

“I'm just a Christian,” he added. “It's the truth. I haven't put myself against any denominations. I study the denominations so we can find commonality in the cross and the blood of Christ.”

Hughes said he turned his life over to Jesus Christ about 17 years ago when he was single and living in Bandera, Texas. He acknowledged he was “kind of a heathen” about that time, drank too much and sank into a deep depression.

“It had hit a low spot in my life and was screaming at God,” he said.

Hughes had just concluded a “wild weekend” in Bandera when he accepted an invitation from a farrier he knew to attend a cowboy church.

“I have no idea what the pastor said; I have no idea the message he had,” Hughes recalled. “All I know is sitting there, I suddenly knew I needed something better in my life and there was something more. And so I gave myself over.”

When Hughes isn't studying his Bible or doing odd jobs at local ranches, he draws. His cartoons may be seen in Working Ranch magazine or on the Cowboy Cartoonists International website.

Wanting to work on a ranch right out of high school, Hughes eschewed college.

“I figured I could be an uneducated fence-stretcher or go to college, be $50,000 in debt and be an educated fence-stretcher,” he said.

Hughes' inaugural sermon at First Christian Church was based on the Bible's shortest verse — “Jesus wept” — and he was working on his second about the differences between the spiritual and physical realms. He said writing sermons and polishing his delivery of them was “a learning process.”

“This biggest thing about being a pastor is being able to relate to the people you're preaching to,” he said. “That's my biggest challenge.”

When it's pointed out his background might make him more relatable to many prospective Christians than others', Hughes acknowledged that might be the case.

“I knew through the life I've lived and some of the things I've been through, hardships, even as a Christian ... I look back and see the purpose that is there,” he said. “God put those things in my life to help me see, understand and relate to people no matter where they're coming from.”


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