Meet New Associate Pastor Garrett Rea

Rev. Garrett Rea, St. James UMC’s new associate pastor, unwittingly began to prep for his future as a United Methodist Church minister when he was eight years old.  At that age his family began to move frequently for his father’s job with Costco Wholesale.  Garrett had spent his first eight years of life in Riverside, California.  Garrett still remembers their first move—across the country to Tennessee.  “We were squeezed into a pickup truck while my Dad drove a 26-foot moving van,” he said.  “We drove across the desert and we broke down a couple of times.  We had two dogs and one died on the trip.”  The family spent a year in Tennessee, one year in Chicago, and then they moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where Garrett attended middle school and high school. “My formative years, establishing friendships, were spent in Kansas City,” he said.

Garrett and his family lived in the “uncool” part of Kansas City, he said—suburban Kansas City, Kansas, not the more famous Kansas City, Missouri, noted for baseball, food, and culture.  Garrett finished high school before the family moved again—back to Chicago—where his three younger siblings graduated from high school.  The job transfers continued as his parents moved to Kentucky then to Charlotte where they now live, close to Garrett’s grandparents and aunt.
 
Garrett’s faith journey has taken him to diverse settings.  Garrett was raised in a non-denominational mega-church culture, attending Harvest Church in Riverside.  “I was in that space until college.”  Garrett did not go to college immediately after high school, “which led to a conversion moment in which I started to take my life seriously,” Garrett remembered.  His friends and his girlfriend (now wife), Andie, left for college while Garrett worked at a Costco “pushing carts for 40 hours a week.”  Garrett spent his free time reading.  He read Scripture daily and was inspired by Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution, a memoir of Claiborne’s “Simple Way” of incarnational living among people similar to those who Jesus lived among—outcasts, the sick, and the poor. 
 
“Growing up in the suburbs and my (stable) home life, I had taken things for granted,” Garrett said.  “I wanted to get involved in service because of my faith to live among the disenfranchised.”  Garrett decided to check out the City Union Mission, the largest homeless shelter in Kansas City, Missouri.  He played guitar and helped in the chapel service. 
 
One day he met a homeless man who had not gone to chapel.  As Garrett drove home, he saw the man on the street.  “I felt the Holy Spirit call me to get out of my car and talk to him.  I parked and met Gary who lived on the streets with his girlfriend Crystal.  I got him a hot chocolate, a bagel, and a banana, and talked to him for about an hour.”

Garrett would go downtown every couple of weeks to hang out with Gary and Crystal.  “Over a few months I spent an hour at a time getting to know them—how they ended up on the streets (Gary had been hit by a car, lost his job, and went into debt).  It changed my worldview.”

His work at City Union Mission and meeting Gary and Crystal was a “pivotal moment.”   He decided to join Andie at Greenville College, a small Christian college in Greenville, Illinois, affiliated with the Free Methodist Church.  He entered the ministry program to pursue a degree in philosophy and religion:  “I felt a call to ministry.  I had grown up in a church with no ecclesiology and no ordination.  Pastors were hired, but there was no pathway to get a theological education.  I went to Greenville looking for answers.”
 
Garrett was uncertain what form that call to ministry would take—a position in the non-profit world, in church work, or university teaching.  At Greenville, Garrett was exposed to Methodism for the first time through Free Methodist professors who taught him and who took turns preaching at a Free Methodist chapel—St. Paul’s—where Garrett worshiped.  “They opened my mind to thinking critically about my theological worldview that I had taken for granted.  I was introduced to John Wesley and his theology.  I felt at home in it.”  St. Paul’s Chapel was the first place Garrett experienced communion by intinction.  “Receiving the bread in my hand and dipping it was a moving, emotional experience.  We had communion every Sunday there, which made communion more, not less, special.”  Growing up, Garrett had received communion only two or three times a year.  Worship and communion “solidified my trajectory toward Methodism,” Garrett said.

 

“Maybe God was calling me to church ministry in Methodism,” Garrett thought.  His professors encouraged him to consider going to seminary after noting his abilities in theological thinking, teaching, and preaching.  “They noticed gifts in me that I didn’t notice in myself,” Garrett recalled.  They recommended Duke Divinity School—a couple of his professors had studied there—as the most comprehensive place to study.  “If I got in, I thought I’d go,” Garrett said.

Besides his degree in philosophy and religion, Garrett (as well as Andie) received a certificate in TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language).  They got married and moved to South Korea to teach English.  “We had a lot to learn,” Garrett said.  “We had to talk about finances using Korean funds.”  In December of that year in Korea, Garrett was lying in bed when he got an email from Duke informing him of his acceptance to the Divinity School.  He and Andie applied online for an apartment in Durham, left South Korea on a Saturday after their classes ended, and Garrett began classes at Duke on the following Monday.
 
At Duke, Garrett took as many field education courses—church internships—as he could, hoping to answer questions he had about his future.  “Is local church ministry where God is calling me?  Or non-profits?  Or further education?”  Again, people at Duke saw abilities in Garrett that he didn’t see in himself.  “Folks affirmed gifts in me that I didn’t recognize in myself.  But I had to claim for myself gifts for ministry,” Garrett said.
Garrett’s third and final year at Duke was the beginning of his candidacy process.  During an internship at Concord UMC in Eli Whitney in northern Alamance County, Pastor David Allen recommended Garrett to the Corridor District as a candidate for ministry.  Garrett and Andie also joined Concord, becoming United Methodists at the same time that Garrett was deciding upon ministry in the United Methodist Church.  “We fell in love with North Carolina; through connections and friendships here, it made sense to pursue ministry here,” Garrett said.  “You have to be recommended by a local church in a given conference and we had no connection in Kansas City.”
 
Garrett now looks back to his time after high school and meeting Gary and Crystal on the street in Kansas City as “a moment that started a winding journey,” that led him to ministry in the United Methodist Church and to St. James UMC.  “I was raised on a theology of a one-moment of experiencing grace.  But conversion is daily.  There is a moment of justification, but only God can do the saving.  It is a matter of daily living into that reality.  It is a journey of daily conversion of being sanctified.  Day by day I want to put myself in a position where God can use me and open doors.”
 
Garrett sees his role as associate pastor to be in three areas of ministry—preaching, teaching, and outreach.  “I am grateful to keep preaching in this role.  It is a huge honor to proclaim a word from God, for God to proclaim a word through me,” Garrett said.  “Teaching I see as facilitating conversation.  The Holy Spirit is driving the teaching rather than me.  I enjoy a conversational setting of exploring a text or a book.” 
 
As for outreach, Garrett said, “I don’t know what that looks like yet.”  He sees it as connecting church with community.  But first he wants to learn St. James’ culture and identity before he can help the congregation, members of which have been in the community for many years.  “I see church as a place where we are sent out—a post where we get needed supplies to go out and do the work God wants us to do.”

 

Garrett and Andie and their almost-five-year-old daughter Arden have already been on the receiving end of God’s work as members of the United Methodist Women of St. James have given generously to the Rea family in “at least ten poundings,” Garrett said.  “We won’t have to shop for the rest of 2020!  Gift cards, food, staples—it has been amazing.   We are impressed and overwhelmed.”