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A new view from the pulpit
Five Hall County Methodist churches see new pastors after the organizations annual re-appointments
The Rev. Don Underwood has been appointed to Trinity United Methodist Church in Clermont. He formerly was at LaFayette United Methodist Church. - photo by Ashley Bates

Each year, beginning in the spring, the governing body of the United Methodist Church appoints pastors to their current church or a new congregation.

The process begins in April and final decisions are announced at the North Georgia Conference in June.

Some pastors stay and some go to new churches by July 1.

"Each year every pastor is eligible to be appointed somewhere," said Marilyn Sherry, district administrative assistant for the United Methodist Church Gainesville district. "Now quite often, and this is a misconception, a lot of our Methodist churches have fairly long-term pastors. However, the bishop and the cabinet review every year and they either reappoint you as of July 1 to your same appointment or they appoint you somewhere else.

"If you are ordained then you are guaranteed to receive an appointment somewhere."

This year five Hall County churches welcomed new pastors.

"Most of the time we know in April," said the Rev. Calvin Haney, the new pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church. "When they make the appointments it differs each year. You have an idea; it's a process that begins early in the year.

"The church has a committee called the Staff Parish Relations committee ... and they will meet and they have a form to fill out and send to the district superintendent stating their preference."

Within the Gainesville district of the United Methodist Church there are 90 UMC churches with more than 20,000 members, according to the organization.

Other pastors new to the area are the Rev. Don Underwood, the Rev. Paige Bennett, the Rev. Randy Strickland and the Rev. Hugh Cauthen.

The Rev. Calvin Haney

Haney comes to Gainesville from Midway United Methodist Church in Alpharetta. He has been in the ministry for 30 years and this is his eighth new church appointment.

Haney has ties to the Gainesville area, beginning with his first church appointment at Bethlehem United Methodist Church in South Hall.

"I started out in Hall County and I may finish up in Hall County," Haney said. "Both my wife's family and my family are from the Hall County area, we both grew up in Gwinnett."

Haney said it is always different heading to a new church.

"While we are all United Methodist, each church has its own little ways of doing things and you have to get accustomed to that," he said. "I came with no preset agenda other than to learn with them and we'll figure out what's going on as time comes."

In the United Methodist tradition, Haney uses the lectionary to guide him to the Sunday sermon "95 to 97 percent of the time," he said.

"St. Paul is pretty much a traditional church and I'm pretty traditional," Haney said. "A lot of people prefer to stand behind the pulpit when they deliver their sermons, I prefer to stand out and deliver the sermon in a conversational way and sharing the good news with them."

Haney and wife Debbie have two children, Brandon, 23, and Mandy, 20.

The Rev. Don Underwood

Underwood said he hasn't spent much time in the Hall County area, but that his family would be very proud to call it home.

"My parents thought that the only place to vacation was the North Georgia mountains," said Underwood, who has three sons with wife Alice. "They would think that I've died and gone to heaven."

Underwood recently moved to Trinity United Methodist from LaFayette United Methodist Church, in the northwest corner of Georgia. It is his eighth new appointment and he said the worship attendance is about the same as his former church.

"I find this to be kind of a blend of what was once a country church with a congregation, in many ways, like a suburban congregation," he said.

The church has about 340 members and averages 140 at worship service, according to Underwood.

Underwood, who grew up in Covington, has been serving in the United Methodist church 35 years. He graduated from Emory University School of Theology.

"I tend to say that my approach is ‘come let us reason together' than ‘thus sayeth the Lord,'" he said. "Even though I would be traditional, I try to carry people on a journey so when we get to the end they are nodding their head and saying yes."

The Rev. Randy Strickland

Coming to Gainesville is a homecoming of sorts for Strickland. He did not grow up in the Sardis area, where Antioch United Methodist is located, but he wasn't very far.

"I left Gainesville in 1986 so I'm coming home, but I haven't been home in over 20 years," Strickland said. "It's home and at the same time it's a new town."

Strickland graduated from East Hall High School and went to college and seminary at Mercer University. He has come back to Gainesville from Bold Spring United Methodist Church in Franklin County.

"I have been a pastor since 1978," Strickland said. "I began my ministry in the Southern Baptist Church but because of my theological differences I transferred my ordination and have been in the Methodist church now since 2004."

Strickland said one of the differences in the Methodist and Baptist churches is the worship service.

"The style of worship is somewhat different and that is what is attractive to me about the Methodist Church," he said. "The United Methodist Church has quite a rich heritage; we love the reading of Scripture, we love the liturgy and we confess our faith every Sunday."

Strickland took over Antioch from the Rev. Greg Bergner, who had been at the church for 13 years.

"It's a town church even though we are out in the country," Strickland said. "One thing I have noticed about Antioch is very healthy - the laity of this church do a lot."

The lay people of the church organized the Gainesville Assistance Project 29 years ago.

"They do two camps a year where young people go out and do work in the community," Strickland said.

Strickland and wife Evelyn have one grown son, Christopher Strickland who lives with his wife Kelly and two children in Flowery Branch.

The Rev. Paige Bennett

For Bennett, her appointment to Chicopee United Methodist is the first of her career.

"I became a United Methodist member 10 years ago and actually was a member at Chicopee United Methodist Church," she said. "I already have those family connections here; I have felt like I just stepped right in and able to pick up where we left off."

The pastor said she kept hearing God's call to enter the ministry.

"I started the candidacy process and the district superintendent and the bishop decided that they needed me back at Chicopee," she said. "This is my first appointment and I'm back here serving the people that helped train me up ... and now I am here to serve them in a different way."

Chicopee UMC has 75 members on roll and about 25 active members. The relatively small church is set to have a prayer vigil July 19.

"We are coming together as the body of Christ," Bennett said. "To see what God's purpose and vision for us is at the time. I think that is important, to pray and ask God what it is he wants us to do.

Bennett, who is originally from Waynesboro, replaced the Rev. Michelle Holtman who moved to South Georgia.

The Rev. Hugh Cauthen

Cauthen comes to Hopewell United Methodist Church after 10 years as pastor of congregational care at Gainesville First United Methodist. He has also served at Hartwell United Methodist, Carrollton First United Methodist, Grace Church in Atlanta and Cumming First United Methodist.

Cauthen is a graduate of Emory School of Theology, where he received both a master's degree and a doctorate. He and his wife Betty Sue have lived in Gainesville about 15 years.

He said Hopewell is known for "its many outreach ministries to the community, its hospitality and its worship services."

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