Welcome letter from Pastor Joe Gunby

img_0222-1Hello Church Family,

Greetings in the name of the One who was, and is, and is to come.

Today I have the privilege of officially becoming your pastor. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to serve this church. Throughout the entire process of becoming your pastor, I have had a deep sense of peace that God was working in my life to bring me to you, and that sense of calling has only been deepened as you have welcomed me with such extravagant hospitality. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the outpouring of kindness to me and my family that has come in the form of notes, pictures, phone calls, meals, and of course, a John Wesley bobblehead. Maxine and the SPR have gone above and beyond to make this transition as smooth as possible—helped tremendously by Lisa’s compassion for all of us, too.

About Lisa…I have seldom met a pastor with the kind of pastoral wisdom that she exhibits. She demonstrated tremendous gifts of love and leadership that have shepherded this congregation to the place where it is and I could not be more grateful to her. She wasn’t even my pastor and I already miss her. Of course it’s OK for you to miss her and to feel sad that she is gone. But in her love for me I feel God’s blessing on my ministry to you. I’ll never forget the first conversation we had on the phone—her deep gladness that this transition was going to be OK, that she was safe to hand off this work to me. Now that the transfer is official, it’s time to press on toward what lies ahead, but we won’t leave the past behind as we do. We will cherish the past as a resource for the future direction of this church.

In these first few months I’m committed to a ministry of listening—of hearing from you the things that God has done in your midst, of your love for one another, and of your compassion for the least of these. I want to hear what this church means to you, your memories of what matters, and how the lessons of the past shape our way forward into God’s good future. It’s important for me to hear from you not just because I’m your guest and need to know what makes you tick, but because I recognize that Oconee Street has a unique charisma and mission that means a great deal to the United Methodist Church and to the city of Athens. In time, some things are bound to change here and there, but my commitment to you is to maintain the continuity of this church’s witness to God’s life in this city.

And I do love this city. I went to high school here and lived here for a number of years after college, and it feels like coming home to be back again. With me I bring my wife Julie (10 years, today!), my daughters Lena (5) and Etta (2) and my baby son Simon. Julie is no stranger to Athens, either, having graduated from UGA in 2002. Y’all did a good thing getting me because it means you get her. You’ll see.

Again, thank you all so much for the warm welcome. You already feel like family and while I can’t wait to begin this good work with you I also know that all things unfold in God’s good time, and that if we trust in God’s future, we will come together to a place of deep joy.

God bless you.

Your pastor,

Joe Gunby