After more than two decades in Mansfield, Mike and Rhonda Ramsdell figured that they were here to stay. But life has at least one more adventure for the couple.
Mike Ramsdell, who served as senior pastor at First Methodist Mansfield for 20 years, was appointed as a district superintendent for the Central Texas Conference by the bishop, overseeing 60 churches and 85 pastors.
The 63-year-old knows what he’s doing. In 20 years, he helped First Methodist Mansfield grow from 1,000 members and two services a week to 7,000 members and seven services weekly and one of the top 50 attended Methodist churches in the country.
“It’s been a constant challenge, a constant battle to adapt,” he admits. “We are constantly changing, building, staffing. Change is always traumatic.”
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Ramsdell doesn’t take credit for guiding the church’s massive growth.
“The church has always had great leaders, committed to Christ, lay ministers and staff willing to step up,” he said.
But he does feel like he accomplished his ultimate goal while he led the First Methodist Mansfield.
“We helped people grow in faith in Christ,” Ramsdell said. “Christ has been the center of everything we’ve done.”
David Alexander, who took over as senior pastor last fall when Ramsdell decided to step down, says Ramsdell has a long list of accomplishments, but there is one thing that stands out.
“I’ve never met anyone with a more deep and sincere faith,” said Alexander, who has been a minister at First Methodist Mansfield for 11 years. “Every day I’ve worked with him, he’s just a solid guy. That’s what made this church - Mike’s faith. Because of the sincerity of his faith and his life, he’s naturally been seen by other pastors and civic leaders as someone who could provide leadership. When he speaks, people listen, because he speaks with wisdom and sincerity.”
Pastor Michael Evans of Bethlehem Baptist Church agrees.
“Pastor Ramsdell has been a friend to the Mansfield community and to all the people here,” Evans said. “He has opened the doors to First Methodist to all people. He’s going to be missed by me and other clergy.”
Ramsdell hasn’t just led one of the largest churches in Mansfield, he’s also helped guide the city through explosive growth.
“He’s been a stabilizing force,” said Clayton Chandler, who has been city manager for 32 years and a member of First Methodist Mansfield since before Ramsdell arrived. “I never heard one of his sermons that I didn’t get something out of it. I would take notes on the bulletin.”
When the city was going through the very controversial process to bring Big League Dreams to town and Chandler was feeling pretty low, Ramsdell dropped by Chandler’s office.
“He said he was just driving by and something told him to stop,” Chandler remembered. “He said he didn’t want to get into who was against it, he just wanted to let me know that he and a lot of other people supported me. I walked out of there ready to take on another day.”
Ramsdell and his twin brother, Steve, were born in San Angelo, but their father was an Air Force pilot so the family moved around a lot. The twins served six years in the Navy before heading to the seminary. His brother is now the pastor at First Methodist Waco.
After graduating from Brite Divinity School, Mike and wife, Rhonda, headed to Bangs for four years, then served nine years in Waxahachie and four years in Joshua before landing in Mansfield in 1995. At the time, the town had only about 20,000 residents, Ramsdell remembers.
“There’s more restaurants, more businesses now,” said Rhonda Ramsdell. “We used to have to drive to Arlington and it seemed like it was forever away.”
The couple, who have been married 41 years, have three children - Julie, Michael and Kelly - and nine grandchildren. Julie’s family is in Beaumont, Michael and his family live in Mansfield, while Kelly’s husband is serving in the U.S. Army and their family is stationed in Puerto Rico.
For Rhonda, the choir at First Methodist Mansfield became a second family.
“I have been through some pretty hard things and the choir has been my family, my constant,” said Rhonda, who sings soprano. “We do a lot of extra practicing, bonding, taking trips together and being there for each other.”
The church has grown and expanded so quickly, but Rhonda Ramsdell says First Methodist Mansfield feels like home.
“It’s not the building,” she said. “It’s the people inside. It feels like a family when you walk in.”
Selling their house and moving to Fort Worth after more than two decades was difficult, she admits.
“I know that we’re doing the right thing,” Rhonda Ramsdell said. “I’m glad we’re going to be close enough to come back to visit.”
Mike Ramsdell didn’t expect this new challenge, but he’s embracing it.
“I thought we’d stay here,” he said. “I have an opportunity to use what I have learned here. I enjoy teaching and helping other churches and pastors with ministry.
“I’ll miss church and ministry here a lot,” Ramsdell said. “I’ve lived lots of places in my life, but there’s no place like Mansfield, how the churches interact. Everyone should be proud of it. I don’t think people who live here realize what a great place, great schools and churches we have.”