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New pastor begins his term at Salem UMC

Joe Peabody Jr. is the new pastor at Salem UMC.

Joe Peabody Jr. is the new pastor at Salem UMC.

The law's loss is the Lord's gain. As a champion debater at Emory University, Joe Peabody knew from the moment he saw Perry Mason on television that he was going to grow up and become a lawyer.

His father was a United Methodist Church minister and because the young Peabody had an affinity for public speaking, everyone asked him early on if he was going to be a preacher like his daddy.

"I always said, 'no.'" he said. "Some of that was selfish childish rebellion against being a preacher's kid. I always want to be careful when I talk about this. I don't want to poor mouth, but there are more lucrative professions."

He said as a kid growing up he wanted more things than a pastor's salary could sometimes afford.

Today, the Rev. Joe Peabody Jr., has a different outlook on life, and for him, the debate is over. He has indeed followed in his father's footsteps and this summer accepted his most recent assignment to serve as the new pastor of Salem United Methodist Church in Covington.

Peabody said he spent most of his high school and college years running away from any ideas about being in the ministry until God got his attention one evening at a camp meeting at the Indian Springs Holiness Campground. He and his family had attended the annual camp meeting there for many years and own a cottage on the grounds.

Traveling from place to place as his father served churches, Peabody said he considers home to be the campground, as well as St. Simons Island where his paternal grandparents retired the year he was born, and the farm in West Georgia where his maternal grandparents live.

Peabody had graduated from McEachern High School and went to Emory University, majoring in both philosophy and religion. While at Emory, Peabody excelled on the debate team. He did so well, in fact, that following college graduation, Florida State University hired him to help coach its debate team.

He also taught public speaking and argumentation at Florida State for two years while he prepared to go back to law school.

"It was during that time I was approached by a church there to be their summer youth director," he said. "It was convoluted, but basically I got tricked into going to lunch and... the pastor showed up and did a hard sell. I had a great time."

Peabody came back to Emory that next year planning to get his law degree and a theology degree.

"During that whole season of time there was an evening at Indian Springs Holiness Camp meeting... where an evangelist from Mississippi talked about the likelihood of a young man sitting in my area of the tabernacle who is living his life so he can say 'yes' to God, but reserving a part of his life," Peabody recalls.

"He talked about letting your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no' -- not going it half way. That's the day I stopped saying 'no,' but not saying 'yes' to any particular thing. That's been true of my ministry. I've tried to walk through doors it seems God is opening for me."

Once he decided to say "yes," Peabody enrolled at Emory's Candler School of Theology and took a job as youth director at Northbrook United Methodist Church in Roswell, first part-time then going full-time until seven years later, he moved to Tulsa, Okla., to serve as the youth and college minister at the 8,000-plus member First United Methodist Church.

He returned to Georgia in 2002 and has been serving United Methodist churches for the last decade.

Peabody, who received his degree from the Candler School of Theology, serves on the faculty of the North Georgia Conference's Youth Ministry Institute and has served on the board of directors for the Wesley Foundations at North Georgia College and State University and at Kennesaw State University.

His most recent appointment was as pastor of County Line United Methodist Church near Griffin. It was there where he met his wife, Allison, a long-time school teacher in Pike County and the divorced mother of two boys -- Parker, 11 and Ashton, 8.

The church had planned a mission trip to New Orleans after Christmas a couple of years ago and it ended up that Allison was not going to be able to join the group until later. A death in the church delayed Peabody from leaving with the mission team. As it turned out, he called to see if she wanted to ride with him to join the others.

"We spent about nine hours in the car together and then a week on the mission trip," Peabody said.

"When we came back, I had a sit down with my superintendent and said, 'I'm not asking your permission, but I do value your thoughts. What I need to do is date her with your blessings.' We started dating and got engaged Labor Day weekend 2010."

The couple married in April 2011.

Family is important to Peabody, who now enjoys spending time with his wife and the boys.

Peabody's father, Rev. Joe Peabody Sr., is still in the ministry and is the pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in East Cobb County. Peabody's mother is a retired high school English teacher and his younger brother, Andy, is a deacon in the North Georgia Annual Conference, who has developed and directs MUST Ministries, one of the largest faith-based not-for-profit service providers in Georgia.

As he and his family settle into their new home, Peabody is enjoying meeting the members of his congregation.

"The folks have been wonderfully warm and we've received quite an enthusiastic reception," he said. "...They have been wonderfully hospitable to us and worked with us every step of the way. We've been very grateful."

When asked about his style of preaching, Peabody said he thinks he is a combination teacher and storyteller.

He began his ministry at Salem UMC in June, preaching his first sermon there on July 1. He said he looks forward to the days ahead and invites the community to visit the church, which offers Sunday School for all ages at 9:45, followed by Sunday worship at 11 a.m.

Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, email Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.