Rev. Tommy Vann, lead pastor of McMinnville First United Methodist Church, originally wanted to be a doctor, but he hit a wall when he came to college chemistry.
“My brain was not trained to think chemically like that,” he says.
As someone who grew up being nurtured in Methodist churches, by virtue of his father being a preacher, Vann felt comfortable in the church environment and decided to go into the clergy. In the fall of 1985, he accepted a position as music director in his father’s church in Columbia, Tenn. He has been collecting a steady check from churches ever since, serving as a music director (for 27 years), youth minister, and for the last eight years lead pastor.
Throughout his career, he has also taught music and science in elementary, middle, and high schools. He has also worked as a hearing aid salesman, a shoe salesman, and a cellphone salesman
“It’s dog-eat-dog,” he says of the telephone sales world.
Vann describes his path as a “convoluted” one. The constants throughout his journey have been his love of ministry, his love of music, and his love of people.
When Vann came to McMinnville in 2016, he had not been to the town before. He remembers driving from Columbia with his wife. As they crossed Frank G. Clement Bridge and drove up the hill toward downtown, he recalls being awestruck at seeing the First United Methodist Church steeple come into view, pristinely looming over Main Street.
In McMinnville, Vann sees himself as not simply pastor of FUMC, but as a pastor for the community. He lives by John Wesley’s observation, “The world is my parish.” Wherever he goes, Vann tries to treat everybody he meets as though that person is a member of his congregation. The Good Samaritan, he points out, did not ask who the person in the ditch was. The Samaritan simply helped.
Vann was born in Franklin, Tenn., and growing up he lived in Nashville, Murfreesboro, Mount Juliet, and Columbia, as his father moved from church to church. After graduating from Columbia Central High School, he attended Columbia State Community College. There he started dating Claire, the young woman who would become his wife.
He and Claire both had jobs working the concession stand during Columbia State basketball games. Even though they knew each other in high school, they did not start going steady until the concession stand brought them together. They eventually got married, and they are parents to twin sons.
Following graduation from Columbia State, Vann earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from MTSU. He eventually earned a master’s degree in music from MTSU and a divinity degree from Vanderbilt.
When he was a kid, Vann would sometimes hang out backstage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, on account of his uncle Howard “Big Howdy” Forrester’s playing fiddle in country music singer Roy Acuff’s band, the Smoky Mountain Boys. After arriving in McMinnville, Vann did some digging and discovered the same architect (Hugh Cathcart Thompson) who designed the Ryman designed McMinnville FUMC’s building as well.
One of McMinnville FUMC’s architectural features, its distinctive weather vane, lends itself to Rev. Vann’s appeal to potential churchgoers: “FUMC is the church downtown with a weather vane on top. We hope the wind blows you in our direction.”
Outside of his pastoral duties, Vann stays active as a board member of Warren County Habitat for Humanity, as a leader of a local ministerial association, and as a participant in musical events like the annual “Hark at the Park” Christmas show. He also likes watching romantic comedies and Hallmark movies with his wife. A few of his favorite films are “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The Proposal,” and “You’ve Got Mail.”
Vann’s favorite Bible verses come from Philippians 4:4-8, Psalm 133, and Isaiah 43:1-7, which reads in part, “You are precious and honored in my sight and … I love you.”
Says Vann, “I don’t think people hear enough that they are dearly and eternally loved.”