I am humbled to write about Bishop John Wesley Hardt. He (in my opinion) was destined to become a United Methodist Pastor and Bishop with a name like John Wesley. But as the internet reminded me when I started looking for a picture of him there was another man who had the same first and middle name, John Wesley Hardin, an infamous gunfighter and outlaw of the old west who ironically was the son of a Methodist pastor.
John Wesley Hardt was born in San Antonio in 1921, the son of a Methodist pastor. He earned his undergraduate degree in 1942 from Southern Methodist University. He didn’t travel far for his theological degree, earning it in 1946 at S.M.U. as well. In 1965, Southwestern University awarded him a Doctor of Divinity degree.
His ministerial career started when he finished his bachelor’s degree. His first year he served as a supply pastor. For non-Methodists, a supply pastor fills an empty pulpit for a short period of time. In 1943 he did something unusual. He followed his father as the pastor at Malakoff Methodist Church in Malakoff, Texas following his father’s death while serving that congregation. From there he served Pleasant Retreat in Tyler, First Methodist in Atlanta, TX, First Methodist Marshall, and First Methodist Beaumont. He led each congregation in at least one building program while serving as pastor.
In 1977 he left local church ministry. He served as the District Superintendent of the Houston East District. In 1980 he was elected bishop and served the Oklahoma Annual Conference where he served until his retirement in 1988. Then he became “Bishop-in-Residence” at Perkins. He served in that role for twelve years, the longest tenure of any Bishop at Perkins.
Martha entered into his life while both were students at Lon Morris College, a now closed private junior college in Jacksonville, Texas. Martha hailed from Malakoff and the two married while he was serving as pastor there. They married in 1943 and were married for 73 years.
I never knew Bishop Hardt during his pastoral career or while a bishop serving an episcopal area. I first met him during his tenure as “Bishop in Residence” at Perkins School of Theology, S.M.U. He taught classes in church polity at Perkins and church administration in the summer Course of Study School at Perkins. That was were I met him.
Bishop Hardt was an avid tennis player. One day during his church administration class, one of my classmates decided he would challenge the Bishop to a match. The classmate said after class, “It is probably the only chance I will ever have to beat a Bishop and know there likely will be no repercussions.” He thought he could win based on one thing, Bishop Hardt’s age. Bishop Hardt was in his mid-seventies. Bishop Hardt took my classmate to school. It was a total whipping. My classmate never again said a word about the bishop’s age.
In 2001 I became the pastor at Pleasant Retreat United Methodist Church in Tyler. I am unsure when Bishop Hardt served as pastor at Pleasant Retreat but there were still members of the congregation who remembered “John Wesley,” fondly. He came to Tyler three times during my time there to “assist” me with funerals. He preached the sermons for each. I just wanted to get out of his way. He insisted I lead the service. I also invited him to come back and preach on a Sunday morning. It was the only time I had the opportunity to hear him preach that was not a funeral. I introduced him to the congregation as there were many people who didn’t know him. He was short in stature, until he stepped into the pulpit. I was a sermon I will never forget.
There are many more things to say about Bishop Hardt but this short bio is getting to be a long bio. He truly was one of the finest men I have ever known. He passed away in 2017, just shy of his 96th birthday. He was a great man. He was a good and faithful servant of Jesus Christ.
I pray you have a great evening.
Seeking the Genuine (and John Wesley Hardt was genuine),
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved
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