Have you ever pondered your family tree? What has shaped you to be who you are? Not just your physical traits, but did you inherit your interests, inclination for service and integrity from your ancestors? Mark Vowell, the senior pastor at First Frisco United Methodist Church, has a family tree that stands tall, with roots that run deep and branches that spread strong in service and faith.
Pastor Vowell is a third generation minister and naval officer. He says, “In 2013, my bishop called me to share about the opportunity of serving at First Frisco. It is the fourth time I have had the privilege to serve a church previously pastored by my dad, Lynne Vowell, or grandfather, Linley Vowell. My grandfather served as pastor here from 1954 to 1957. First Frisco member, Billy Vandeventer, whose namesake is Vandeventer Middle School, remembers arriving at the church as a little girl with her family and being greeted by my grandfather. It brought joy to my heart when Billy made it a point to greet me and my family when we arrived at the church for the first time!”
Pastor Vowell, his father and his grandfather all grew up attending Methodist churches. All three of the men attended seminary at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, were ordained as Methodist pastors and served in the North Texas Annual Conference. Pastor Vowell says, “We became pastors after spending time in one or more other vocations. Linley was a school teacher in northeast Ark., Lynn was a naval officer, an airline pilot, a rancher and a real estate broker before responding to a call to pastor. I was also a naval officer before entering seminary.”
Service speaks to the heart of Pastor Vowell. Military service, as well as ministry, are ingrained into his family values. Pastor Vowell says, “My mom’s favorite uncle, Roy Dillahunty, my Dad, my brother-in-law, Ray Luke, and I have all been commissioned officers in the Navy. I have one son currently serving and another who is planning to serve.” Pastor Vowell continues, “When my mom was a small girl during World War II, her favorite uncle made a secret trip from southwestern Oklahoma down to the Dallas Naval Air Station to see if he could get selected for pilot training. Roy earned his Navy wings and flew carrier-based dive bombers during the final stage of the war in the South Pacific. He came home a decorated war hero after dropping a bomb down the smokestack of an enemy troop transport, an accomplishment that both honored and burdened him the rest of his life. Roy was the first naval officer and flyer in our family tree.”
Pastor Vowell’s mom and dad met at the Wesley Foundation at Oklahoma University (OU). They got engaged at the altar of McFarlin Methodist Church in Norman, Okla. Pastor Vowell’s dad graduated from OU and was commissioned as a naval officer just days before his wedding. He served on active duty for 11 years before he transitioned to the Navy Reserves and began one of several subsequent careers. He retired from the Reserves as a captain.
Pastor Vowell continues, “Like my dad, I was able to attend OU on a Navy ROTC scholarship, was commissioned as a naval officer and headed off to Pensacola, Fla., for flight training after graduation. I received my wings as a naval flight officer in July of 1985, and eventually was assigned to VP-45, stationed out of Jacksonville, Fla. Our squadron flew P-3C Orion aircraft, which were designed to track submarines. I made three six-month deployments throughout the North Atlantic and Mediterranean during my sea tour. This was at the height of the Cold War, so we were pretty busy trying to keep track of all of the Soviet subs in our sector. I continued drilling with the Navy Reserves, even as I began my career in ministry, and retired from the Reserves as a commander.”
Service is indeed a Vowell family trait. Pastor Vowell shares, “My sister, Tawni, married a Naval Academy graduate (Ray Luke) from Muenster, Texas. He flew CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters on active duty and also retired from the Reserves as a commander. Currently, we have a son who is serving an enlistment in the Navy and he is training to be a missile technician as a submarine volunteer, stationed in Charleston, N.C. Our son who is a senior in high school, is hoping to follow me and his grandfather to OU on a Navy ROTC scholarship. Navy runs deep in our family!”
While Pastor Vowell’s parents were stationed in Guam, they welcomed both he and his sister to the family. After Guam, the family moved around, like most military families. His early childhood included stints in Oak Harbor, Wash., Oxnard, Calif. and Beeville, Texas. Once his dad retired, the family settled on some land north of Denton near Valley View. His parents joined First United Methodist Church in Gainesville. “My sister and I grew up in that church, sang in children’s choirs, went through confirmation training, attended Methodist summer camps, attended youth group and learned to serve in mission,” Pastor Vowell says. He reflects, “For many people, a migrant time in the military is a time separate from the church. That was not the case for my family. I have no childhood memories, ever, of life apart from the connection to a Methodist church. So, my childhood can be divided in time spent as a military brat and time spent as a small-town kid, but church involvement and family life centered on devotion to Jesus was the constant.”
When asked about his decision to follow in his father and his grandfather’s footsteps to join the Navy and ministry as a vocation, Pastor Vowell says, thoughtfully, “I suppose the common thread here is ‘service.’ I wanted to serve my country. I still do. And, I wanted to serve my God. I still do. Belief in and service to causes that are bigger than one’s self has been a driving force behind this nation since its beginning. Belief in and service to God is a great summery of Christianity as it is described in Scripture. For me, the connection between the two is unmistakable, and I am proud and grateful to be a part of them.”
Frisco has gained national attention for its booming business and housing markets, but it is also known for its education system, values and strong sense of community. Pastor Vowell says, “I see Frisco as a community built around children, and I love that. As a dad and as a pastor in a church where children are everywhere, I love being part of a community that is so committed to investing in those young lives. My hope is that the residents and the community of Frisco will see those young lives as having eternal significance and will invest, as families, in the training and encouraging of young spirits with the same energy already poured into the training of young minds and bodies. At First Frisco, we say we are ‘building a family of faith.’ My prayer is for that saying to become more and more true of the residents and community of Frisco as we all grow together, not just in numbers and affluence, but in love, compassion, purpose and joy.”