BRADENTON -- After growing up in West Bradenton, Matt Wallis found his calling in preaching Christianity under the Methodist denomination.
It's a journey that's taken him all over Florida from the Panhandle to Central Florida.
Small towns and larger towns.
Now Wallis has returned home.
Last Wednesday was Wallis' first day as senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church, 3200 Manatee Ave. W.
"I had a funeral on my first day, which was a ministry first," Wallis said. "I assisted with it, I didn't actually conduct the funeral. That was a first. Other churches, I've had funerals within the first week, but never on the first day so that was interesting."
Wallis took over for Jim Rosenburg, who retired at the end of June after serving UMC churches more than 40 years.
The new senior pastor has a goal for what he wants to accomplish with his congregation.
"To become an outward-focus church," Wallis said. "And to put our main priority on reaching those that aren't yet a part of Trinity,
rather than focusing solely on its members and taking care of its members. While that has value, and I'm not saying we should ignore that, but there are ways that can be accomplished with gifted and passionate lay people serving one another. I want the church to make an impact in the world, and specifically in our community to the point where if the church ever ceased to exist, the people would grieve its loss."
Pastor's assistant Marty Williams, with 20 years working at Trinity UMC. She said she's excited for what Wallis can do.
"A lot of churches, there's a lot of elderly people," Williams said. "And we need some more younger people in the church. That's what I feel like he can do. He's going to draw some young people here. Being raised here a long time ago, he's got some connections."
Arriving in Bradenton means a homecoming for Wallis, who spent the past four years in Brandon.
He attended Bayshore High School, where he started dating his wife of 26 years, Billie Wallis, nee Bradury.
Their two children, Joshua, 25, and Aaron, 22, were born in Bradenton.
Wallis' path to ministry wasn't always clearcut. He said he veered away from church life during his high school days due to some personal conflicts with people attending his church, First Nazarene, and decided he was done with it.
"Because you're a teenager, you know everything," Wallis said.
Billie was a regular at Oneco United Methodist, and Matt started going again.
He even journaled about his spiritual life, and soon saw the scribbled words sounded like sermons.
In addition, his youth group involvement paved the way for the ministry work to begin.
"That's when I first started to sense a call, but every time I looked into becoming a youth pastor, it seemed like the door got shut on me," Wallis said. "And then when I started thinking about becoming a pastor, it seemed like the doors started to fly open. And then I had an opportunity to be a student pastor when I was a student getting my bachelor's degree."
That start was in 1993, with Wallis completing his bachelor's degree in 1998 at Florida State University.
And now, he with the call to return to his hometown, which Wallis noted has changed a bit with Lakewood Ranch being a sprawling neighborhood as opposed to a concept approved by the Manatee County Commission as it was when he departed in the early 1990s.
Services at Trinity UMC are conducted at 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday.