Making new friends in a new town can be tough, but the Rev. Geoffrey Grubbs has made it a mission.
But it’s an easier one than usual at St. Paul United Methodist Church at 404 Washington St. NW in Gainesville.
“St. Paul is a downtown church and yet it has kind of the atmosphere of one of the smaller hometown churches,” said Grubbs, who became the newest lead pastor at the church six weeks ago. “Everyone one hugs everyone here, handshakes from the guys. It’s very friendly.”
He said sometimes when you get to an in-town church, some of the business atmosphere makes its way in. But that’s not the case at St. Paul.
“Here they’re very warm and open,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve made it going about 20 feet without getting hugged.”
Grubbs most recently spent two years as senior associate pastor at Northside United Methodist Church in Buckhead under the Rev. Dr. G. Gil Watson, who serves as the lead pastor at Northside.
“I learned more in the two years with him than I did in the other 16 I’ve been doing ministry,” Grubbs said,
He learned about everything from pastoral care to finance to how to run the different ministries and make them coordinate.
“It was more of an opportunity to be mentored,” Grubbs said. “I had been a senior pastor, but stepping back with him was just an opportunity you don’t pass up. That’s like an electrician given an opportunity to work with a guy who wired a major high rise.”
It was from Watson that Grubbs learned the two statements he bases his ministry on.
The first is the benediction in every service should be: “The love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay, love isn’t love until you give it away.”
“And if a church can’t say that about themselves, then they probably need to change a few things,” Grubbs said.
The second statement was when a person walks — not rides or drives — by the church and they can point you out and say you’re a friend to the community, then the church is doing its work.
Grubbs said he’s told the congregation at St. Paul that the church should be extroverted, only being interior in a sense of strengthening each other.
“But when people come to our doors, we need to find every way we possibly can to be helpful to them,” he said.
Reaching out to the community has become Grubbs’ vision and goal for St. Paul UMC.
“I think that’s why we’re placed at this spot in town,” he said. “We’re a church where people can just walk right up to us, and I want them to be able to say they found a friend in us when they come.”
Tyler Flowers, the youth and young adult minister at St. Paul, said he thinks Grubbs’ past experience will help the church grow. He also believes Grubbs brings a fresh perspective and can help St. Paul work in the community more.
Grubbs knows about service to the community. The Conyers native served his country in the U.S. Navy where he was on active duty and honorably discharged. Afterward, Grubbs became a paramedic/firefighter.
Eventually, the now 42-year-old decided to pursue the ministry, earning a master’s degree from Erskine Seminary in South Carolina.
After seminary, Grubbs worked at Campton United Methodist Church in Monroe. He recalls only 24 people at the church when he first started there — and that number included his wife, Tina, and daughter, Victoria.
“We grew in faith and fun with everybody,” he said of his time there.
The church numbers grew as did his own family. His youngest daughter, Amelia, was born in 2002.
Now, Victoria is 20 and a rising senior at the University of Georgia, which is her father’s alma matter.
“We’re big time Bulldogs at heart, huge fans,” Grubbs said.
Thirteen-year-old Amelia will be in middle school in Flowery Branch.
Working with kids is not new for Grubbs. Following his time in Monroe, Grubbs worked as a youth minister in Loganville. Then he moved to Griffin to serve as a youth minister.
Relocating with his family was his mother-in-law.
“She goes everywhere we go and does everything we do,” Grubbs said. “She’s always the largest support.”
Spending time with his family is his favorite hobby.
“My kids, that’s kind of my favorite piece is being a dad,” he said. “I like all the titles, I enjoy all the work, but being a dad is ... I’d trade everything for an extra five minutes with my daughters.
Flowers, who has been at St. Paul for six years, believes Grubbs experience as a youth pastor, paramedic firefighter, sailor and father are attributes.
“His background is so diverse that he has a way that, I feel, can connect with almost everyone,” Flowers said. “The thing I think (Grubbs) is going to bring is figuring out how to connect with people and how we can serve them better in our community.”