Rev. Lara Whitley Franklin has been appointed by Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. as the Executive Director of the Roberts Center for Clergy Leadership effective July 1.
"I am honored to serve the Central Texas Conference as part of the Cabinet and the Roberts Center for Leadership," said Lara. "The Roberts Center exists to equip and support clergy leaders in our mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world. In our current social climate, clergy leaders often feel overwhelming pressure to please everyone, maintain the status quo, and keep the peace. I think we have all felt it. But leaders, clergy and lay alike, are called to be visionaries, to perceive and believe in the potential of a future that increasingly mirrors the kingdom of God. I am so pleased that Bishop Saenz is focused on supporting and equipping clergy for their work as leaders. I am eager to allow God to use me for God's good purposes."
Rev. Lara Whitley Franklin was born in Houston although she did not “officially” live in Texas until she was sixteen years old. Rather, as the older of two sisters in an Army family, she called Oklahoma, South Carolina, Hawaii, Alabama, Kansas, and Germany home. And, as for many military families living overseas, vacations afforded opportunities to experience many more states and countries. It was just before Lara began her junior year in high school that her family returned to Texas and she completed high school in Huntsville.
Lara’s professional career has been an interesting journey of service through which she has witnessed both extremes of human behavior and experience. Following graduation from college, Lara (then Whitley) took a position with the Texas Department of Human Services investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect. After earning her Texas Peace Officer license, she moved to the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department where she served two years as a patrol officer and eight additional years as a sergeant investigator assigned to the unit that dealt with child abuse, sexual assault, and death investigations. During this time, she was also trained as a mental health officer and hostage negotiator. Sgt. Whitley earned the Advanced Peace Officer’s Licenses, as well as certification as a Police Instructor, taught sexual assault investigation, interview and interrogation technique, report writing, and family violence intervention. During her transition from law enforcement to full-time ministry, Lara served as a bereavement facilitator and tissue donor coordinator for the Central Texas Blood and Tissue Center in Austin.
Lara’s formal relationship with the United Methodist Church began in 1988 while she was a student at Southwestern. In fact, it was in her home church, FUMC Georgetown, that she held her first church employment, serving part-time in financial administration from 2000-2002. Lara served as the Associate Pastor at Genesis United Methodist Church in Fort Worth from August 2002 until March 2007. Her primary responsibilities included mission, evangelism, and pastoral care. While at Genesis she completed her Master of Divinity (2005) and one unit of work in Clinical Pastoral Education at Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital (2006).
Since then, Lara has served as pastor of FUMC Grandview, St. Andrew’s in Killeen, First United Methodist Church in Joshua, Salado United Methodist Church, and Wm. C. Martin United Methodist Church. During her time at FUMC Grandview the church successfully undertook an aggressive campaign to retire an overwhelming debt. Under her leadership, FUMC Joshua developed an intentional program of mission development which included three international mission trips, 2 domestic adult mission trips, youth mission participation, local service development and a 200% increase in member involvement in ongoing mission/outreach. Lara’s time at Salado UMC was marked by an intentional focus on connecting the church with young families. During her tenure, the church has received 174 new adult and young adult members, 153 of whom have been under the age of 50. In July of 2017, Lara was appointed to Martin UMC. In those five years, average worship attendance grew significantly (from 245 to 397 or 61% - until the pandemic shutdown. Martin also expanded the mission engagements, undertook an $810,000 capital campaign over 5 months to retire all debt, and engaged in intentional ministry and dialogue around the Conference emphasis of Ending Racism in Our Lifetime and honoring the diversity of creation.
During the pandemic, Martin was at the forefront in supporting broad revision of technology resources and committed to making every small group available online and in real time. This commitment remains, with most small groups continuing to meet in a hybrid format from week-to-week.
Lara has always been energized by travel and ready to experience new people and places. Her early life experiences fostered in Lara a deep appreciation for diverse cultures and customs, and she loves to discover the unexpected opportunities new experiences afford. In 2010 she marked her 40th birthday backpacking alone in Italy and has led four pilgrimages to the Holy Land since 2006. Her hobbies and interests include scuba diving, cycling, hiking, reading and quilting. However, recent years have found her closer to home. In April 2021, Lara’s husband Rev. Travis Franklin, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme. In September, she went on leave as Travis required full-time care. Travis died March 3, 2022. Together, Travis and Lara have a daughter, Erin, who will be a first grader this fall. Travis’ son Michael and his wife Meagan are both teachers in the Mesquite ISD and live in Fate, Tx. Lara and Erin adore spending time with them as often as possible.
Lara graduated from Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas, in 1992 where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and German, and completed a semester of work at the University of Osnabrück in northern Germany. She earned the Master of Divinity degree from Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, graduating first among the class of 2005. She was also recognized for outstanding work in Hebrew Bible and United Methodist Polity, received the Gil Ferrell United Methodist Student Award and completed a residency course in Methodist Theology at Wesley College, Cambridge University, England. Since that time, Lara has also completed all course requirements for the Doctor of Ministry at Brite Divinity School. She chose to remain ABD after the Cabinet tapped her in the spring of 2013 to follow Travis at Salado UMC. What has to be the most successful clergy transition in the history of the CTC led to dinner to mark Lara’s June birthday, a marriage proposal, a 2014 wedding and the gift of their child born in 2015. Lara has served on the Central Texas Conference Sexual Misconduct Response Team, District Committees on Ordained Ministry, the Wesleyan Homes Board, the Health and Welfare Committee and she currently chairs the Equitable Compensation Commission.