Dave Benson is the new pastor at Conyers First United Methodist Church. (Special Photo)
What better introduction to the area could a new Conyers pastor receive than to spend one of his first weeks on the job at Salem Camp Meeting? Dave Benson, who is the new senior pastor at Conyers First United Methodist Church, attended the historical camp meeting this past week, soaking up the music, preaching and fellowship and serving as a teacher for one of the classes.
“This is my first time at Salem Camp Meeting, but we’ve got some good friends who have been coming here and talking about it for years — Alice Rogers, who is one of the preachers for the week,” Benson said. “We’re having a great time.”
In fact, Benson said he has been having a great time since his first Sunday as pastor of Conyers FUMC on June 22.
“I have to say, I have never been so loved on in my life,” he said. “It’s just a wonderful congregation and they have reached out to me.”
Thanks to the benefits of social media, the congregation reached out to its new pastor the moment they got the news of his appointment. Announcements of appointments made by the UMC North Georgia Conference were on Sunday, May 18, and Benson said he was told that as soon as they heard the news that morning, Conyers FUMC members got out their phones and went on Facebook.
“By the time I got home from church that day, I had 15 friend requests from folks from Conyers,” the pastor said. “They were saying, ‘We’re excited about you and looking forward to you coming.’ They have also welcomed us in more traditional ways. We’ve had seven dinners now. We haven’t hosted anybody yet, but that’s coming.
“We’ve been going to other people’s homes and in groups of eight, 10 or 12, which are just nice sized groups to get to know. When you have a meal with somebody, you can remember their names and families, more than just in a receiving line. It’s just a wonderful way to get to know people and after a month, I feel like I’ve gotten to know a good many.”
As the congregation gets to know its new pastor, they will learn he is an award-winning songwriter who plays piano and guitar and has played in several bands in years past, including a band called Wild at Heart.
“I played with a group of clergy folks in the annual conference,” he said. “We played in kind of a worship band for about 10 or 12 years and we played annual conferences and still try to play. We’ve all gotten larger churches and a couple teach at Emory. We’ve all gotten busier and busier.
“(The group is called) Wild at Heart after a Christian book for men that came out about the time we started playing. It was about how spiritual needs for men are different than for women. I was never really big on the name.”
He laughed and said now that so much time has gone by and the book’s popularity has faded, “the weirder that name sounds” to him.
But he continues to enjoy music, which was such a part of his growing up years in what he calls a “pretty musical family” influenced by a mother who was a music director for more than 30 years.
“Piano lessons were mandatory, but nobody objected,” he said. “It was a pretty natural thing … I majored in theory and composition and I used to write songs.”
A number of years ago, Benson entered one of his gospel songs, “Broken Men,” in the Georgia Music Festival’s songwriting contest and won.
“Originally, when I was involved in church and did youth choirs before seminary and for a short time when I worked with adults too, I wrote a couple of Christmas musicals and continued to play and write songs,” he said. “But now it’s more or less a nice avocation and something I really enjoy doing. It’s a hobby and leisure activity.”
The son of the late Bert and Mary Benson, the pastor grew up in the Buford Methodist Church, where his mother was the music director. He graduated from Greater Atlanta Christian School and attended college at Young Harris and Georgia Southern where he studied music theory and composition.
While at Young Harris, he met Theresa and after they had both graduated, the couple married. Betrothed for 31 years, the Bensons have two grown children, Christopher and Anna. Mrs. Benson is a teacher and will teach second grade at Hightower Trail Elementary School this year.
Benson’s first job in the ministry was as youth director at Trinity on the Hill in Augusta, where he served for six years. His wife was also on staff at the church as the Christian education director. He said it was during his years in Augusta that he began to understand that God was calling him to preach.
Benson went on to receive his master’s of divinity at Candler School of Theology where he graduated with honors and received the John Owen Smith preaching award for his class.
His first appointment out of seminary was at Roswell United Methodist where he eventually became the senior associate pastor and was the lead pastor for the contemporary service. After seven years at Roswell, Benson was appointed senior pastor at Kingswood United Methodist in Dunwoody.
Benson went on to further his studies at Drew Theological, a United Methodist Seminary in Madison, N.J., where he graduated with a doctorate of ministry with a focus on 21st century leadership.
He also participated in the Institute of Clergy Excellence program, a peer learning group with Conyers native and fellow north Georgia pastor and friend, Alice Rogers, one of the lead pastors at the campmeeting this past week.
Through the years, Benson has been on many mission trips that have shaped his life, he said.
“I’m really drawn to trying to make a difference in the world and make it a better place,” he said, adding that he has done mission work in Kenya, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, in addition to many places in the U.S. such as Kentucky, as well as inner-city work.
The mission-minded pastor said he is impressed with how many missions the Conyers church supports.
“It’s great to be able to jump right in with them on that,” he said. “I plan on going to Honduras with them in February and we also have local things going on right now too.”
Prior to his appointment in Conyers, Benson was the pastor of Birmingham UMC in Milton in north Fulton County for six years. He said he tends to not use notes when he preaches, but rather shares the message in a teaching or storyteller style. Benson is also a pastor who has experienced grief and loss in his own life and has a desire to help people who are hurting.
“We went through a time where I lost five family members in six years during my last appointment,” Benson said.
“I lost both my parents, my sister and I had a niece in the Peace Corps who was murdered. That’s pretty heavy. That was transformative. It has given me a real heart for pastoral care, especially people who are burdened with grief. I’m particularly drawn to people who I see who are going through it. Everybody’s situation is different and to say, I know what you’re going through seems trite, but I can feel like I identify because of what I’ve gone through.”
Benson will preach, as he does every week, at all three Sunday morning services at Conyers FUMC, including the two traditional services at 8 and 11 a.m. and the contemporary service at 9:30 a.m.
“I’ve been at a church before where there were three services,” he said. “You’re tired at the end of the day, but not unlike a teacher teaching a full day of lessons.”
Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Walton County. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.