Flowery Branch United Methodist Church
When: 11 a.m. weekly Sunday service
Where: 5212 Spring St., Flowery Branch
More info: 770-967-3441 or www.fbumc.net
Editor’s note: This series introduces one minister from a faith-based organization in the community each month.
Music is a passion for the Rev. Ed Cook, pastor at Flowery Branch United Methodist Church.
The 69-year-old Cook has been playing guitar since he was a teenager and writing his own music for some 20 years.
“It’s sacred music but kind of folky, because I came along in the ’60s and I learned to play folk music,” he said.
Cook plays a six-string Taylor acoustic guitar. His influences include God; the trio of Crosby, Stills & Nash; Bob Dylan; The Beatles; The Eagles; James Taylor and Dan Fogleberg.
“A lot of (what I write) is fingerpicked or strummed,” Cook said. “Kind of folk melodies and folk ways of doing things to it lends itself very well to Christian music.”
He has incorporated those melodies and his musical passion into a service since coming to Flowery Branch. Cook started a singing service. When a month has five Sundays, the fifth Sunday’s service is all music.
Cook has implemented the Sunday singing service at two other churches — Redwine and Bethel United Methodist Church — he has served. The music minister and congregation at Flowery Branch love the concept, because it’s a different way of worshipping, he said.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Cook, who has been in the ministry for more than 30 years.
When Cook was in his 20s, he attended a United Methodist church in Chattanooga. The youth minister asked him to play guitar and sing at a youth rally. After doing so, Cook heard several teenagers’ talk about their faith.
“They started giving their testimony, and they had such a mature faith and dedication to the Lord it just got to me,” he said.
At that point Cook gave his life to Jesus Christ and became more involved in the church, eventually becoming the youth minister. When the pastor at that church moved to another church, Cook felt the call to full-time service.
He began his foray into preaching in Conyers while attending Emory Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. Beforehand, Cook earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a master’s of divinity from Emory. He later studied chaplain ministry and worked for WellStar Health System.
When WellStar moved to Dallas, Georgia, he moved as well to be available when needed. It was too far for him to commute to the church in Homer, so he relinquished his responsibilities as a church pastor.
After serving as hospice and hospital chaplain for 14 years in Dallas, Cook retired and moved to be closer to his children and grandchildren. He and his wife of 32 years, Barbara, have have four children — two each from previous marriages — and five grandchildren.
“Then God started dealing with me again, saying ‘Get back in the game, buddy,’” Cook said.
Therefore, he started as an interim pastor at Bethel United Methodist Church in Jefferson. In June 2015, he was called to the church in Flowery Branch, which was founded in the 1820s.
Cook explained the church first was in a log cabin on the Chattahoochee River and then physically moved to the Flowery Branch area. Several churches have been built on its current location at 5212 Spring St., Flowery Branch, over the years.
Cook said the 100-plus-year-old church honors its past, but takes a forward approach to the future.
“Flowery Branch had a really strong commitment to mission and a mission outside” of itself, Cook said.
Cook talked with The Times about his nearly two years with the church.
Question: What is your favorite part of being a pastor at Flowery Branch United Methodist Church?
Answer: I love to preach. It was great to get back into the pulpit ministry, because I get to preach every week and I really love that. But I also love to visit with people and be a pastor to them. What I don’t particularly like is administration.
Q: What are some of the strengths of this church community?
A: They’re very, very friendly. There’s a part of the service each week spent greeting one another. Sometimes I’m laughing and ask them, am I going to have to turn the water hose on them to get them to sit down? I’m just kidding with them. They love to visit and they love to meet new people and that’s one of the things that’s helped us grow. We’ve taken in, since 2015, more than 30 new members — most of those by profession of faith, not transfers. We’ve baptized a lot of people, too. They’re really hungry to do the Lord’s work and they’re very outgoing.
Q: What’s an area you’d like to see growth or improvement?
A: I would like for us to get more people involved in the busy parts of our church. We have a lot of people who come to church on Sunday, but I would like to see us get more involved. Our goal is to get them involved in one program or another.
We’re aligned with Family Promise, a program that helps homeless families go through a program to save money and eventually rent their own place.
We have a very active food ministry. We feed close to 100 people per week. It’s really very well done and very needed in our community. We try to do just the Flowery Branch area. We can’t get into doing the whole Gainesville area, but we do the Flowery Branch area and it keeps us busy.
Q: What are your hopes for Flowery Branch United Methodist Church?
A: One of the things I’d love to see Flowery Branch do is be able to go full time. I’m a part-time retired pastor. In order to go full time, we need 150 members. We’re at 126. When I got here, there were 92. We have to be able to pay the minimum salary and have to pay insurance and pension for a full-time pastor. They’ve been full time in the past but churches ebb and flow. They have really good seasons and they have seasons when they’re not doing so well. I’d like to see them get back to full-time status.