JAMIE WESTLAKE, Senior Pastor
Please call me: Pastor Jamie
How I became a Christian: I am still in the process of becoming a “Christian,” and I have a long way to go! I grew up in the church, but I was, you could say, in the right place for a long time for the wrong reasons before I first intentionally chose to be a follower of Jesus. My best friends were hanging out in the church, so I did, too, but by the time I was 16 it was clear I didn't believe anything being taught in the church. I stopped taking communion and reciting the Apostle's Creed (http://www.creeds.net/ancient/apostles.htm), but kept spending time with my friends in church. A lot of loving, caring, devoted folks put up with me and my questions and they never gave up on me. At the same time I became clear I wasn’t a Christian, I was elected President of my youth group, so I decided I needed to be real with myself and everyone else and quit going to church. Before I left for good, I went on one last week long retreat to a camp called Lake Junaluska where I experienced the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ in communion! I walked up a hill to think about my life near a cross, and by the time I got to the top, I was ready to follow Jesus. Doesn’t God have a great sense of humor. I belonged to the church long before I was invested in believing in God or obeying His will.
How I ended up at New Hope UMC: I have served local churches at the pleasure of what we call a “Bishop,” or a spiritual leader in charge of the 660 churches in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. He believed that the gifts and graces that I have would be a good fit with New Hope UMC in Brandon. My wife, Denise, and I are thrilled to get to serve here!
The most important thing I do around here is: experience God's joy by offering my life in an ongoing, grateful conversation with Him, which, I hope, helps me make more and better disciples of Jesus Christ.
Education: Attended School of Hard Knocks and learned the most about ministry from the people I have had the privilege of loving and serving God with, but I also went to Florida Southern College in Lakeland and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.
Family facts: My wife, Denise, loves to serve God with me. She is truly my partner in ministry. While we don't have any children of our own, we enjoy working with children. Denise enjoys her part-time office position and is becoming a yoga instructor, and serves as a volunteer on the Tech Team. Our dog, Izzy, is a pappi-iuaua (a papillon and Chihuahua mix) – so he’s 8 pounds of mostly ears.
How I spend my free time: I like to jog long distances. I like to go on adventures with my wife, especially near bodies of water.
Where I’ve lived besides Brandon: Illinois, DeLand, FL, Lakeland, FL, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Miami, Largo, FL, Keystone Heights, FL, Ft. Myers, FL.
ROBERTO CHAPLE, Associate Pastor, Hispanic Ministries
Please call me: Pastor Roberto
How I became a Christian: Grew up in a Christian family in Cuba, but the time came when I knelt at the church altar and accepted Christ as my personal Savior. First got involved in church music ministry, then youth leader during my adolescence, district lay leader in my early youth and pastor and seminary professor as a young adult.
How I ended up at New Hope: Left Cuba with my family in 2010 after serving in the Cuban Methodist Church for ten years. Served in a Christian school in Chihuahua, Mexico and came to Florida in 2011. During my time in the Florida Conference I’ve served in a Hispanic Congregation in West Palm Beach, started a new Hispanic Ministry in Sun City Center and was appointed by the Bishop to serve here at New Hope UMC in July of 2013.
The most important thing I do around here: is reach out for Hispanics in the Greater Brandon Area to make more and better disciples of Jesus Christ. Provide them with pastoral care and opportunities of integration with a vital faith community.
Education: Master’s Degree in English. Master’s in Theology.
Family facts: Married to Yamiley; twin sons, David & Daniel.
How I spend my free time: Hanging out with my family and visiting friends.
Where I’ve lived besides Brandon: Matanzas, Cuba. Chihuahua, Mexico. Miami, Florida. Ruskin, Florida.
Something else that’s interesting about me: Seeing my wife and sons being passionate and dedicated to Christian ministry is my greatest treasure in life.
RICC CONNER, Supply Pastor, The Table & at Limona Village Chapel
Please call me: Pastor Ricc
How I became a Christian: I was brought up in a Christian home and a preacher’s kid most of my life but my faith really didn’t become my own until my senior year of high school. After the tragic loss of my father at age 17 I became very angry and rebellious towards God. During my high school graduation I felt as if God was calling me to stop living my life full of anger and rebellion and to surrender my life to him. So on June 4, 1989 during my commencement ceremony I gave my life to Jesus and it has been the best decision I ever made!
How I ended up at New Hope: Well that’s an interesting question. I originally came here in the early 80’s because my dad was appointed here as the Associate Pastor. Upon his death in 1988 my family returned to Brandon. In 1992 I became the Director of Youth Ministries here for 2 years. In July 2015, I was appointed a supply pastor serving both this church (at our mid-week service, The Table) and Limona Village Chapel on Victoria Avenue.
The most important thing I do around here is: The most important thing I do around here is pray for and serve our families. It is such an honor and a privilege to get to wake up every day and pray for our amazing families and then get the opportunity to serve them in any way possible.
Education: I graduated from University of South Florida in 1992 with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and in 2012 from Liberty University with a Masters of Arts in Christian Leadership.
Family facts: I have a small family of six. I am married to my best friend, Jennifer. I have a wonderful daughter (Emma) and three terrific stepsons (Joey, Clayton, and Jackson).
How I spend my free time: Free time? With a family of six there isn’t a whole lot of that going around, but when I do have free time I enjoy going to the movies, reading a good book, hanging out at Busch Gardens or simply sitting on a bench watching people.
Where I’ve lived besides Brandon: I have had the privilege of living in many different places. I am originally from southeast Ohio. At age 7 my family moved to Florida and I have lived in Orlando, Tampa, Tallahassee, Leesburg and Haines City but my most favorite place to live is right here in Brandon!
VICTORIA HARRISON, Associate Minister, Missions & Member Care Ministries
Please call me: Vicki
How I became a Christian: I grew up in a Christian home but due to a number of difficult circumstances in high school, I fell away from anything church-related for a number of years. After getting married, I felt God pulling me back to the church, although I was still unsure how I felt about my faith. It was in a little church in Lakeland that I heard the salvation message being preached and all at once, I understood the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross – he died for me! On that day, I rededicated my life to Christ. Growing in my faith has been quite a journey, one that has often been a little bumpy, but God has been patient with me and always faithful.
How I ended up at New Hope: Early in our marriage, Richard (my husband) and I were living in Lakeland and having a difficult time finding a church home. Someone recommended we try the Family Foundation Sunday School class here, as there were a number of youngish couples who attended regularly and many (like us) did not have kids yet. We started commuting from Lakeland to attend each Sunday and loved it! Eventually, many of those couples became our very close friends.
The most important thing I do around here is: Connect our local church to the needs of our community & beyond; encourage and empower people to participate in mission and service in the name of Jesus; facilitate the process from first-time visitor to regular attender to member
Education: Master of Social Work and a Master of Public Health from the University of South Florida. I was commissioned as a Provisional Deacon in the United Methodist Church in June of 2014.
Family facts: married to Richard for 21 years; we have three children – Daniel (age 16), Rosie (age 13), and Sam (age 10). I also feel blessed to have extended family in the area including my mom and stepdad, and most of my husband’s family.
How I spend my free time: I enjoy spending time with family and friends, exercising, bargain-hunting, reading, gardening, listening to music, dining out, and traveling.
Where I’ve lived besides Brandon: My father was Navy JAGC so we moved every 2 to 3 years. I was born in Spain, but have also lived in Korea, Japan, Memphis, TN, and various cities in Virginia.
Something else that’s interesting about me: I used to run marathons (when I was much younger), but now am content to just go a few miles.
TIM ASHCRAFT, Director, Facilities & Maintenance
How I became a Christian: Catholic education, attended Catholic Schools
How I ended up at New Hope: Initially, I responded to a help-wanted ad and was hired as a part-time custodian, but I got drawn in by the Alpha Course (while working nights) and you all made me feel so much at home that I joined this church in 2005.
The most important thing I do around here is: Maintain all Church Facilities, including the Boys and Girls Club of Brandon.
Education: High School, Fire Protection Technology
Family facts: Married, 4 children, 3 grandchildren.
How I spend my free time: Relaxing, watching TV, working around my house and spending time with family.
Where I’ve lived besides Brandon: Norwich NY
Something else that’s interesting about me: Retired Firefighter from Upstate NY/Currently a Supervisor with Tampa Fire Rescue’s 911 Center. I have been in the fire service for 30 years.
JEFF BRANT, Director, Music Ministry
How I became a Christian: Accepted Christ as a young teenager as a result of my parents, and a loving country church in Lovejoy GA.
How I ended up at New Hope: Moved here in 1974 with my family. My family sold our dairy farm, and my father came to operate Chick-fil-A at Westshore Plaza.
The most important thing I do around here is: Lead our music ministry and work on planning our services.
Education: B.A. in Music from USF
Family facts: Married to Deborah Brant, one son, DJ Brant and two step-daughters, Lauren and Katie Williamson.
How I spend my free time: Hunting, fishing and boating.
Where I’ve lived besides Brandon: Clearwater FL and Lovejoy GA
Something else that’s interesting about me: While young, I always wanted to get away from the country and farm life. Now, my dream for retirement is to get back to that way of life. How ironic! You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy!
WENDY JOHNSON, Director, New Hope Early Learning
How I became a Christian: I was not raised in the church. In Middle School, I decided I wanted to learn more about this “God” thing. My mom would take me to each different church and drop me off to try it out. I landed at an amazing church that helped me to start this awesome journey. Each day, I dedicate my life to doing God's will. Some days I am better at it than others! I feel blessed to be on the WAY with Him.
How I ended up at New Hope: We moved to the area, visited different churches, and felt most at home here.
The most important thing I do around here is: Help children start their relationship with God.
Education: B.S. in Elementary & Primary Education at USF. VPK Director Certified; Director Credentialed.
Family facts: I married my best friend. Really, I did! We were best friends for five years and then we decided to date. Two years later, we were married and have two amazing children: Riley and Ty.
How I spend my free time: With my family, at the beach and reading.
Where I’ve lived besides Brandon: Miami and St. Petersburg. Our family has a summer home in Holland, Michigan so I consider that my “home”, too!
DAN PALMER, Director, Connect Groups Ministry
How I became a Christian: I grew up in the church (Presbyterian, then Methodist) and don't ever remember a time that I didn't know God loved me. However, I have definitely developed a much closer relationship with Jesus since I started attending New Hope… and especially since my Walk to Emmaus experience.
How I ended up at New Hope: We moved from Atlanta in January 1988 and on our first visit the music ministry in this church blew my wife away! She immediately informed me where we would be attending church. After a career in corporate marketing, I joined the church staff in January 2004.
The most important thing I do around here is: Reflect the love of Jesus. Primarily by supporting our connect groups and Sunday School leaders, and helping people get connected up for mutual support, encouragement and growth. I also participate in the worship services and help make sure folks are aware of just how many opportunities we have to grow and serve.
Education: Degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Florida. Graduate studies in Business Law, Marketing and Accounting. Additional coursework has qualified me as a Certified Lay Speaker in the United Methodist Church.
Family facts: Married to Desiree since 1978. We met as Freshmen at UF. Three grown children: Jenny teaches 2nd grade; Mathew works as a mechanical engineer; Andrea, a former teacher, is a stay-at-home mom with our grandson, Theo. All three are married and live in the Orlando area. All grew up in this church! Desiree's mom and my dad live in the area.
How I spend my free time: canoeing, diving, sailing – most anything to do with water.
Where I’ve lived besides Brandon: born Wilmington DE, grew up Omaha NE, finished high school Lakeland FL and went to college in Gainesville FL. Spent a couple years in Atlanta before moving to Brandon.
CHRIS TEMPLE, Director, Youth Ministry
SHELLY WILSON, Director, Children & Family Ministries
How I became a Christian: Grew up “going” to church with my MOM, but I feel I became a follower after we moved back to Brandon in 1996 and regularly started attending and became involved in the church.
How I ended up at New Hope: By Marriage (Ha Ha) My husband has been a member of the church since 1968, when his family joined.
The most important thing I do around here is: Show God’s love. My goal is to help families teach and LIVE the faith. To show children God’s love and parents that there are many ways to teach the faith to their kids, but also give them opportunities to act on that faith.
Education: Associate of Arts Degree from HCC, one semester shy of my Human Resource degree from UCF.
Family facts: Married one of my best friends, Brian in February 1993, 3 kids: Austin (14), Cody (9) and Trey (3)
How I spend my free time: Watching my kids play in every sport they want to try.
Where I’ve lived besides Brandon: OHIO (Go Buckeyes!): Columbus, Cincinnati, Akron and Cleveland; FLORIDA: Pembroke Pine, Orlando, Brandon, Winter Park; KENTUCKY: Lexington and Nicholasville
Something else that’s interesting about me: I LOVE what I do, but never in a million years would I have thought this would have been my “job” or something I was called to do. I originally went to college expecting to earn a degree in Special Education, with a focus on middle school aged children. I interned the first semester of my Jr. year and said “This IS NOT for me!”, changed my major to Human Resource and moved on. Many things I learned in college help me everyday, but I KNOW that God gives me everything I need to do my job! I take great pride in my work and I work with the most ASTOUNDING GROUP of PEOPLE I know. I have a great family and I know I am blessed everyday of my life.