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Posted: August 16, 2012 10:32 p.m.

Q&A with new Salem UMC pastor Peabody

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Salem United Methodist Church welcomed a new pastor recently in the Rev. Joe Peabody, a self-labeled preacher's kid, sports junkie, lover of sailing, devoted husband and father of two.

Peabody, 43, is a native Georgian who has served in ministry for many years, including as a youth minister, associate pastor and head pastor at churches in Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma.

He was kind enough to participate in a Q&A with The News:

Where were you born?
Emory University Hospital. My father was serving a three-point charge (that's United Methodist parlance for a circuit of three small churches served by one pastor).

How old are you?
43 years old. McEachern High School (Cobb County) Class of 1987. College at Emory University, Class of 1991. Seminary at Emory's Candler School of Theology, too.

How did you come to be at Salem United Methodist Church and why did you accept the job there?
In the United Methodist Church, all pastoral appointments are made by the resident bishop, in our case, Bishop Michael Watson. The bishop makes those appointments in consultation with the district superintendents, who oversee each of the 12 districts in the North Georgia Annual Conference. (An "Annual Conference" is a geographic designation, but the name derives from the annual meeting - also called annual conference - which takes place every June.) Those district superintendents, in turn, consult with pastors and congregations annually to assess the needs and desires of (1) pastors and their families, (2) churches and their congregations and (3) the annual conference as a whole. Salem United Methodist Church is in the Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District under the leadership of our District Superintendent Sharma Lewis.

Although the duration of appointments in the United Methodist Church varies, technically each is for one year at a time. Therefore, each year a process begins. Churches and pastors have the chance to offer their input based on a range of options: a demonstrable need to stay, a preference for staying but with an openness to moving, a willingness either way, a preference for a move but with an openness to staying and a demonstrable need to move. The language varies from year to year, but that's the essence of it. Based on the input from the pastors and churches, the bishop and the cabinet (the 12 district superintendents) prayerfully deliberate, occasionally invite additional conversation and consultation and ultimately decide.

One of the questions United Methodist pastors are asked in their ordination ceremony is, "Will you go where you are sent?" That commitment is at the heart of the itinerant ministry in the United Methodist Church. So ... when I said yes to serving as in itinerant pastor in the North Georgia Conference, I said yes to coming to Salem ... though the two events were years apart. In that very limited sense, it is not all that different from serving in the military: When the Bishop says, "Go," you say, "Yes, sir."

The polity of the United Methodist Church is Episcopal in nature, rather than Congregationalist; meaning that pastors are sent under the authority of the bishop (Methodist, Episcopal, etc), rather than called by the local congregation (Baptist, Presbyterian, etc).

Where have you previously served as pastor?
I served on staff in youth ministry at McEachern UMC in Powder Springs, Ga.; Tallahassee Heights UMC in Tallahassee, Fla.; Northbrook United Methodist Church in Roswell, Ga.; and First United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Okla.

I first served under Episcopal appointment upon returning to Georgia in 2002 as the Associate Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Toccoa. My most recent appoint was as the pastor of County Line United Methodist Church in Griffin, Ga.

Why did you get into the pastoral field?
Long story. Bottom line: There came a point in my life when I knew that I was not living a life whole-heartedly surrendered to God and His will for my life because, although I was actively seeking to serve Him as faithful Christian, I was seeking only to do so on my own terms. I had yielded authority in my life over to God ... or at least I had as best I knew how at the time (for I'm still learning) ... but I had withheld one area of my life: my vocation.

At the moment I stopped saying "no" and initially said yes, I didn't even know what I was saying yes to. I just knew I couldn't pretend that I had fully yielded to His Lordship of my life when I was so clearly in outright rebellion in that one area. Most of my friends thought I was a pretty sincere, faithful, committed Christian at the time. And I was. But I was trying to live the Christian life on my own terms, and that's disobedience. So I started saying "yes" as best I knew how. And I've been doing my best to walk through whatever doors God opens ever since.

What is the most rewarding part of being a pastor?
Life change. Not to sound all preachy, but here's the thing: God doesn't need us. He certainly doesn't need me. There is no insufficiency in God such that God is dependent on us for anything. Rather, the sovereign God of the universe has chosen to use us as part of his plan for the redemption of the world. And when I stop to really think about that, it wrecks me every time.

When people ask me what church folk really mean when we throw around churchy-language like "building the kingdom of God" I try to explain: it is about changing the world one life at a time. So I guess another way of answering your question would be this: people. The most rewarding part of being a pastor is people.

What is the most difficult part of being a pastor?
People. Sin is real. People's hurts are real. The need in the world is real. The messes we've made of our lives are real. The self-centeredness that eats away at our souls and leaves others in desperate need is real. And the hope of authentic life-change is real, too. So - yes - ministry can be messy and can be hard. And I'm okay with that. Not because that's the way I want it to be or wish it were, but because waiting for the world to get better before rolling up your sleeves and trying to make difference is just silly and sad. What the world needs are more people willing to get down and get dirty in the middle of the mud puddles of human need.

How would you describe your preaching style/philosophy?
I want my preaching to be both hopeful and helpful. I get accused of being a tad professorial at times. I guess I'm a blend of teacher and story-teller. Mostly I'm a guy who believes what he says.

What are your goals at Salem United Methodist Church?
In my first sermon here at Salem, I told the congregation gathered that morning that there were four things that I already knew about them: (1) that God had created each of them with the power and privilege and the right and the responsibility to choose, (2) that they were each unique, never-to-be-repeated tools in the hands of God, (3) that God intended (and intends) each of us to be worthy image-bearers of the Holy One and (4) that we all need, and can know, forgiveness.

I told them that those were the truths that would be my privilege to proclaim from Salem's pulpit and that those same truths were our responsibility to share with the world around us: in Newton, Rockdale, and Henry counties and around the world.

As a father with two young boys, I'm eager to see what God will do in our ministry with children and their families. As someone who loves music of many genres, I look forward to the opportunities for worship that we will have and the ways we might create more doors to our church through worship. As someone with a long history in youth and college ministry, I'm excited about the new ministry (The Bridge) we are starting for those who are out of high school and find themselves somewhere on the bridge between being dependent on their parents and being fully independent.

What are some of your favorite hobbies?
Sailing, though I don't get to go sailing as much as I would like. Adventure photography. Golf.

Which book of the Bible do you enjoy reading most and why?
The gospel of John, I suppose. I was a philosophy major and John's Gospel is written for the secularly educated/influenced Greek mind.

If I had only one chapter of the Bible I could get someone to read ... I would have to flip a coin between Matthew 18 and Romans 12. Tough call. But good reads. Life-changing reads.

What is one of the next things you hope to check off your life's to-do list?
Selling the houses we still own in Forsyth and Pike counties!!!

I've been invited to teach at a college in China by a missionary friend there, and I have been invited to teach at a seminary in Venezuela. I am excited about both those possibilities.

I have fantasies about seeing the U.S. compete in the World Cup in Brazil.

I'm looking forward to my sons' football games and soccer matches this fall.

Perhaps a doctorate somewhere down the road; but not "next" on my list.

Compiled by Editor Gabriel Khouli.

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