Published on LancasterOnline and in print July 25.
Clarence Hogan never expected to live in Lancaster County. Before visiting, he had only heard about Lancaster because of the Amish.
But when Hogan, 37, set foot in Hempfield United Methodist Church to interview for the youth minister position, he said he fell in love with the church and its students.
“I felt like this is where God wanted me to be,” he said.
Lancaster County is a world away from Detroit, where Hogan grew up in a single-parent household. His mom was stable until middle school. After that point, numerous tragedies occurred in her life, and she began to use crack cocaine.
“She would hide it well. She kept a job, but she was seriously addicted,” Hogan said. “So I grew up with that.”
It was at the age of 13 that Hogan said he found his faith. He regularly attended church prior to that time, but it wasn’t until he attended his first “Good News Gang” meeting that he really started to understand Jesus Christ and walk with him in faith.
“They talked about this guy named Jesus and how much he loved us and wanted to have a relationship with us,” Hogan said. “And I was like ‘Whoa, nobody loves me.’ I know where I’m from, I know what I’ve been through.”
The more they spoke about Christ, the more Hogan began to believe that Jesus loved him unconditionally.
“So that day is when my faith walk started,” he said. “I gave my life to Christ that day. I have been trying to serve him since. I will never be perfect, but I’m always on a journey to become closer to God.”
At the age of 17, Hogan’s abusive stepfather threatened to kill him and his mother. It was then that Hogan really turned to God, and he moved in with his youth pastors. He said he didn’t want to live that life anymore, and he had no intention of returning to his home so long as his stepfather lived there.
With the support of his youth pastors, he finished his senior year of high school. He attended Central Christian College of the Bible and Liberty University, graduating with a degree in biblical studies.
After serving as a youth minister in Chicago for five years, Hogan decided he needed a change. He had accepted a position in Indianapolis, but when Hempfield United Methodist Church called to interview him, he said he decided to try it without knowing what to expect.
“The students (at the church) are very involved,” Hogan said. “They’re not perfect by any means, but they loved me and took to me well, which in youth ministry, you never know how that’s going to go.”
Hogan replaced former Youth Director Sean Garner, who left to be closer to his family.
Hogan accepted the position at Hempfield in April, and he credits the students for inspiring him to make his decision.
“They’re part of the reason why I even decided to come,” Hogan said. “I find myself myself being closer to these students in three months than I had been with students I had worked with for years.”
A youth minister must have integrity and a heart for working with younger people, Hogan said.
“(How) you live in the daylight should be how you live in the dark,” Hogan said. “That’s where a lot of youth pastors go wrong; you live two separate lives, and I don’t believe that helps anybody.”
Hogan said he is dedicated to working with the students and that he tries his best to ensure that everyone feels as though they have someone to talk to when facing difficult times.
“Kids want to know that they have access to you. … They want someone that they can call, that’ll pray for them, that’ll pray with them,” Hogan said.
No matter what the students are going through, they won’t have to walk alone, Hogan said.
“I had to live through all (my experiences), but I know I didn’t have to live through it alone. God walked me through every step of that,” Hogan said.
“If you feel alone, find somebody that’s going to listen to you, who is going to love you unconditionally.”