Pastor’s Biography

Reverend John Hirling

Grace and peace to you.  I thought I might take this opportunity to let you know a bit about me, both personally and theologically. 

I was born and reared in Cincinnati.  Dad worked as a refrigeration maintenance man for Kroger but had also been a forest ranger and in the Civilian Conservation Corp.  Mom worked for a large retailer when I was young, and later as an audit supervisor for the IRS.  Dad died on Christmas Day, 1988.  Mom died on Easter 2004.  I have one sister, Sally, who still lives in Cincinnati. 

We were a ‘church going’ family: Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings, Thursday choir practice, a couple of weeks of revival in the Summer, and VBS, of course.  Dad was a bass, Sally, a soprano and I sang tenor.  Some of my fondest memories are driving on vacation, singing hymns and anthems, in harmony. That is actually how I first learned scripture.  Mom taught preschoolers.  Dad was a deacon.  I think I was about eight when I ‘preached’ my first ‘sermon.’  Though relationships were strong with one another at Chase Avenue Church of Christ (later Clovernook Christian Church), I don’t recall much grace or much emphasis on a living relationship with God.  I couldn’t understand why everybody who wasn’t us was going to hell or why women couldn’t serve as ministers, elders or deacons.  I thought about going to seminary, but in high school, I discovered a different kind of spirit (or should I say ‘spirits’?).   That is a long story; mostly boring.  I’ll be glad to share it with whoever is interested another day.  Recovery is much more interesting. 

I returned to college after serving a four-year tour in the Navy.  In 1975, I moved to Galveston and began attending law school at the University of Houston.  That’s where I met my first wife.  Sobriety found me in 1980.  Clare and I were very active in service but church was not part of my plan.  Clare convinced me to give it a try and I thank God that she did.  For the first time, I heard a word of grace at St Paul Presbyterian Church in Houston. It was transformative.  But I still wasn’t going to become a member of a church.  Tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor!

While serving St. Paul as youth group leaders, Clare and I learned we could take seminary courses at the Houston extension of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  Our pastor took us up for a weekend.  I started waking up with a mental image (Presbyterians have mental images, not visions <grin>) of a corridor with a closed door on the right and a door on the left open the width of my foot and my foot was in it.  We applied, and the image went away.

Alas, the marriage did not survive seminary.  Clare has now retired after serving churches in Arkansas.  I served as a solo pastor in Allen, TX (4 years) and at Oaks Presbyterian in northwest Houston (12 years) but beginning in 2006 I began ministry as an intentional transitional pastor.  This will be my ninth transitional call.

I met Terri in 1998 and we married in 2002.  For many years, we did medieval and Renaissance historical reenactment, but have cut back the last few years.  Terri is an independent contractor for Aflac. 

My approach to ministry is to ‘walk alongside’ as we serve God together.  A brilliant elder told me early on, “John, we want you to lead.  But please don’t get so far ahead we can’t see where you’re going.”  You are the experts in the ministries of First Presbyterian – Livingston.  Early on, I’ll be trying not to fall off the learning curve.  As we serve, we will seek needs to meet, hurts to  heal, and opportunities to grow in faith and witness.  

If I had to sum up my theology in one line, it would be, ‘God loves us and there’s nothing we can do about it.’ I truly believe that the joy of living comes in serving others.

God be with you!