By Will McClure
In January of 2005, Mr. Paul Wright and his wife, Lola, began a new chapter in their life when Mr. Wright accepted the position of Youth Minister for Common Ground. Ten years later, Wright is
still as busy, passionate and joyful as ever by continuing to influence the lives of the Stamford youth. Mr. Wright was able to sit down and reflect on the previous ten years, commenting on how
much the ministry has grown and changed over the years as well as offer his words of wisdom that he expresses to the kids that attend Common Ground each and every week.
Before beginning at Common Ground, Mr. Wright spent nine years as band director of Stamford High School, influencing students’ lives in a different setting while pursuing his dream of being the best band director he could be when he graduated from college. Wright thoroughly enjoyed his nine years at Stamford High School, commenting on how the students made it and still make it what it is today. He would hardly have any discipline problems, keeping his office door open for students to come see him at any time. It was not until one day in 2004 that Mr. Wright began to have a feeling that something else was in store for him.
“I will never forget that year. We had just won sweepstakes and we were sitting at the restaurant and I said to Shane Faucett [now the band director at Sweetwater High School], ‘Man, I feel like somebody’s calling me for something else that would cause me to leave what I love doing,’” Wright said. “I’ll never forget the look on his face. He said, "Dude, what are you saying?’ ‘I don’t know, what did I say?’” It would be later on when he would be initially offered the youth minister position, which he had turned down the first time. What changed his mind and confirmed his final decision was a student who asked him to be the youth minister at Common Ground. Although he had a difficult five months of saying goodbye to his band students, Mr. and Mrs. Wright would begin work at Common Ground in January of 2005. Mr. Wright said on the first day that he was “scared to death,” but would be able to overcome the fear and spread the word of God. Mr. Wright said that he is still nervous to this day, but is blessed to be able to work with his family and does not want what he says to be his words but rather the Lord speaking through him.
Initially only offering a Bible study on Wednesdays and Sundays, Mr. Wright quickly opened Common Ground’s doors every day from 9-5 so kids would have a place to go if they needed to talk as well as allow parents the opportunity to come speak to Mr. Wright himself. Today, Wednesdays are just as busy for the Wrights as kids are provided with a hot meal and a bus ride home from Mr. Wright himself. Wright said that he feels responsible for the kids when they are at Common Ground and does not feel comfortable allowing kids to walk home in the dark after service is over. He even gives out his personal cell phone number so that kids can call him at anytime to pick them up and take them home.
While the initial services would seem small at the beginning and have seen drops which would become discouraging, Mr. Wright noted how much Common Ground has grown over the years, with the result of an average of 85 kids attending in January alone and as many as 100 on a single Wednesday night service. Wright said that they put out between 70-75 chairs in preparation for service and would have to put out more once it began. Wright said that the kids in Stamford are great kids and are learning how to be leaders in their own right. He said he thanks God for the people that are on board to help with the ministry as it has grown from being just him and his wife.
“I thank God for my wife and my family; I wouldn’t be able to do it without them. I thank God for Terri Spalding, Erica Williams, Shawn Speck and his fiancée, Christina.” Wright said. He also states how the first lesson that was ever given is still posted on the wall of Common Ground. Over the years, Mr. Wright has learned how to engage the kids in each lesson and learn the word of God. He noted the biggest challenge he faces today is to make sure he meets and ministers to every kid when they need it the most, not wanting anyone to fall through the cracks. He hopes to be that person that kids can come to as needed so he can provide encouraging words. Mr. Wright says that there are no limits to what the kids can do and emphasizes the theme for the year: Be real.
Today, Mr. Wright sees no signs of slowing down and continues to see kids step up and be leaders in their own right. He notes that two youths have already spoken during service in January and have been the embodiment of being real and being true to themselves. Wright continues to help at Stamford High School when needed and tries to go to the school when it is in session. He is still very much involved in music and helps other bands as well as judge music festivals. Wright is always receiving offers to speak, having done so in Haskell and at the Paramount in Abilene during the Playmakers event and will be traveling to Wichita Falls later in the month. He gives all of the glory to God and gives Him all of the credit, wanting to be that vessel for God to use. Mr. Wright said he is having a blast and would not trade it for anything. He concluded by saying in his familiar, encouraging tone that: “John 9:4 says ‘we must quickly carry out the task assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work.’ There’s going to come a day and time where you can’t do, so you must do today while you have the opportunity…because there will come a time in life where you won’t be able to do. I want these kids to understand that they do have worth and God can use them where they are right now to be a blessing to their peers, their families and their surroundings. Be what you need to be [and] it will be displayed.”
Thank you to Mr. Wright for all of your years at Common Ground and here's to many more to come!