The Rev. Larry Moffet is being remembered as a pastor who cared about his congregations, his fellow clergy, and the communities he served.
Moffett, who served the former Nebraska Conference and Great Plains Conference from 1984 until his 2019 retirement, died April 26 from complications of Hodgkin lymphoma. He was 71.
“He took his spiritual journey seriously,” said the Rev. Don Bredthauer, Moffet’s district superintendent. “He had a pastor’s heart, for sure.”
“He had a real wonderful way of talking to you on your level,” said Betty Wiles, a member of Omaha Hanscom Park UMC, where Moffet served from 1994-2006. “Whether it was giving a sermon or one-on-one, he had a way of relating to people.”
Rev. Dr. Charlotte Abram, a clergy colleague in Omaha, called Moffett a “pastor to the pastors,” and recounted her own times in her family when he was present during difficult times.
“He was a colleague but also when there was a need, a pastoral need, he was there,” she said.
The Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede, pastor of Omaha Saint Paul Benson UMC, said Moffett made a concerted effort to reach out to the communities he served.
“There’s this ocean of people in communities where he has lived and served that saw him as their pastor even though they never stepped foot into church. He was truly a community pastor,” Ahlschwede said, hearing stories of his theological conversations at meals, morning walks and at the theater. “These are people who are not numbered in our congregations but knew him as their pastor. It’s amazing.”
Moffett grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri, where his nurseryman father was also an ordained minister in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, now known as Community of Christ.
After graduating from a Latter-Day Saints college in Iowa with a journalism degree, he became publisher of the weekly Kearney County News in Minden. With no Latter-Day Saints church in town, he began attending the United Methodist Church.
“In that church I really experienced the power of grace for the first time,” he told the Lincoln Journal-Star in a 2006 interview.
By 1981, he sold the newspaper and enrolled at Saint Paul School of Theology. While in seminary, he was a student pastor at a large Black church in Fayette, Missouri.
“My head and my heart got together,” he told the Journal-Star. “I was no longer a Christian just in my head, but I could feel the life of the faith deeper than I had ever felt it before.”
Moffet brought his Missouri congregation to Omaha Clair Memorial UMC, where he first met Abram.
“There Larry was in the middle of all these short Black folks. He was standing up there and singing with gusto. That was a testament to Larry,” she said. “His love of worship went across all genres, but he was very liturgical in his heart. He was at home worshipping God in all kinds of multi-racial, multi-ethnic situations.”
Moffett’s first appointment in the former Nebraska Conference was from 1984 to 1988 at Omaha FaithWestwood UMC. He was originally appointed as associate pastor, but took over as senior pastor after the death of his predecessor.
“He took on some very major responsibilities in trying to keep that church together and did it and did it well,” Bredthauer said.
He moved to the East Ohio Conference as director of communications from 1988 to 1991 and returned to Nebraska from 1991 to 1994 to serve as executive director of United Methodist Ministries in Omaha.
After three years at Omaha Lefler Memorial UMC, he moved to Omaha Hanscom Park, where he was senior pastor from 1994 to 2006.
“He was always available, always brought the spiritual side into everything and made it comfortable,” recalled Wiles, former chair of the stewardship and finance committee. “No matter what we were doing, what we were dealing with, whether it was good news or bad news, he had a way to bring that conversation around to the spiritual side and the power of God without it being uncomfortable.”
Wiles said the Hanscom Park congregation teased him about his gregarious nature at weddings and funerals.
“Larry got to know absolutely everybody at every wedding and every funeral. He’d know all the family involved in the wedding or funeral, and a lot of times we would end up getting members from other family members in the congregation,” she said. “Larry had a way of working with people and people just loved him. He would always remember their names and knew them and made them feel comfortable and at home.
“Larry just really brought them back to church, the total acceptance of church – not the rules and regulations but the love and acceptance,” she added.
In the early 1990s, Moffet joined the board of the Lydia Patterson Institute, a United Methodist-supported school in El Paso, Texas, just blocks away from the Mexican border and the city of Juarez, where a majority of the students live.
“Coming to Lydia Patterson was like a treat for him,” said the school’s former president, Socorro de Anda. “He would walk from the border every time he came. We told him it was dangerous to cross the border, but those kids to him were his life.”
In a phone interview from London, where she was receiving an award from the International Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges and Universities, de Anda said that Moffet — a longtime secretary of the Lydia Patterson board of trustees — would ensure that school graduates could enroll at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
“Every student that attended Nebraska Wesleyan, Larry would pretty much adopt them and make sure they were taken care of and that they completed their work at Nebraska Wesleyan,” she said.
De Anda said Moffet’s influence was felt at the school.
“He was more than just a board member,” she said, “he was part of the community of Lydia Patterson.”
Ahlschwede first met Moffet 28 years ago, when he was her mentor in the candidacy process to become an elder.
“We are an Easter people, but Larry might have been the most Easter of all of us,” she said. “He just always lived the resurrection as a person of incredible optimism and hope. He was still a reporter, always willing to share stories of hope in the world.”
She remembers him as someone constantly excited about people and sharing the word of God.
“He was almost ruthless in his hospitality and his outgoingness,” Ahlschwede said. “He was incredible.”
In sharing stories with other friends and colleagues in the days after Moffet’s death, she also discovered a common bond with them.
“I feel like Saint Paul School of Theology probably should have paid him a finder’s fee for the number of people who have given me testimony that it’s because of Larry Moffet that they went to seminary or took a lay speaking class or became a member of a conference committee,” she said.
Abram called Moffet a “pastor to the pastors,” and was grateful for his care and presence during a difficult time in her family.
Her twin grandchildren were born in an Omaha hospital. The grandson died at birth, and the granddaughter was born 1 pound, 3 ounces.
“Larry was there with our family,” she said. “Larry counseled us and prayed with us.”
She remembers him saying, “As long as she’s fighting, we’ll fight.”
“Every time we’d see Larry come around the corner to visit, our hearts would be lifted,” she said. “Larry was a presence — he was present for people.”
The stress of the hospitalized newborn took its toll on Abram, she said, and she took herself to the emergency room with what she thought was a heart attack. Abram didn’t call any family, but only dialed Moffet.
“Larry was by my side for me,” she said, recounting a birthday recent message from her now-21-year-old granddaughter to Moffet. “He was a present help in time of need.”
While Abram was at Omaha Union UMC and Moffet at Hanscom Park, the two decided to have confirmation classes together.
“Larry being Larry, thought our youth would get a lot out of it by making friends and learning from other children,” she said.
Moffet’s last appointment in the Great Plains was at Lincoln First UMC, where he served from 2006 until his retirement in 2019.
The Rev. Bill Ritter, retired superintendent of the Blue River District, said Lincoln First had increased membership and attendance during Moffet’s years.
“He was a wonderful pastor for First United Methodist Church,” Ritter said. “He had compassion. He had outreach to Wesleyan University, which was right next door.”
That outreach included a “Sunday Night Live” worship service, and providing meals for Nebraska Wesleyan students following Sunday morning services.
“He was so involved in the lives of his parishioners,” Ritter said. “Just a top-notch pastor.”
Moffet told the Journal-Star that Lincoln First was one of the churches he had visited before converting to Methodism.
“The power of the worship life of this church touched me so deeply,” he told the newspaper. “I was glad for the opportunity to serve here.”
After retirement, he joined St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City, Missouri, attending Mass every day before his illness prevented it.
“He was a compassionate and wise pastor to many, a kind and generous friend to even more, and a man beloved by all who knew him,” read a post on the church’s Facebook page.
Survivors include a sister, Beth Booker; his mother, Margaret; and three nieces and nephews.
St. Mary’s Episcopal, 1307 Holmes St., will be the site of his funeral Mass, at 2 p.m. Friday, May 5. It will be livestreamed on the church’s YouTube page.
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