Rev. Michael Eaton took the pulpit at the Payson United Methodist Church on May 1, 2021. But he is no Rim Country newcomer.
“I was previously appointed to the Payson United Methodist Church from July 1, 1994 to June 30, 2000. I am thrilled and feel very blessed to come back and serve PUMC again,” he said.
Eaton received a bachelor’s of science degree in psychology from Arizona State University and a master’s of divinity from the Duke Divinity School of Duke University.
“United Methodist pastors are not called by churches. We are sent to churches. Our church polity involves a bishop and superintendents, they are referred to as the appointive cabinet, who make decisions concerning pastoral appointments. This group matches the gifts and graces of a pastor with the needs of a church that needs a pastor,” Eaton explained.
As an example, he said if a church needed help with its mission work, a pastor skilled in missions would be sent to that church.
Asked what he considered his pastoral gift, Eaton laughed a bit, then said, “I have a passion for reaching new people — the un-churched and de-churched.”
The changes he has noticed most in the 21 years he’s been away — the town has a lot more roundabouts, which he likes, he thinks they’re good for traffic; there is a new movie theater in town — “The one that was here went down with the Titanic. That was the last movie it showed before closing.”
As for the church, it added new classrooms and the congregation is older, “But so am I.”
He said there are still members that remember him from his earlier work at PUMC.
The church resumed in-person worship earlier this summer, but he encourages members to wear masks. He said they are also working toward incorporating a live streaming element to the service.
There is a combined effort between Eaton and the congregation to grow the church family. “A group of us marched in the rodeo parade wearing red T-shirts that said, ‘The Church Has Left The Building’ and our motto is ‘Love Like Jesus.’”
Between the time he left Payson in 2000 and his return this year, Eaton served in churches in Mesa and most recently in
Boulder City, Nev. He said PUMC is part of the Southwest Desert Conference, which includes all of Arizona, southeastern Nevada and the Colorado River cities in California. There are about 130 churches in the conference.
Eaton had a birthday Aug. 26 and every year he rides his mountain bike the number of miles that match his age. This year is his 62nd birthday. He said he started when he was 50, using a road bike. This year he used a mountain bike and traveled the Control Road. “The mountain bike was harder than a road bike,” he said.
Eaton and his wife Alane also like to travel and while he was serving in Mesa, he did a five-week pulpit exchange with the pastor of a Methodist Church in Lincoln, England. They toured England and Scotland, and then they took a three-week vacation to tour western Europe.
His wife is still in Mesa, finishing her last year teaching fourth grade, so Eaton splits his time between here and there, where they enjoy being first-time grandparents to recently arrived Indigo.