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A Match Made in Heaven-Husband and Wife Team Up as Simpsonwood UMC Co-Pastors

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Photos by Tracey Rice

Some people might find working in a professional setting with their spouse a challenge, but for the two new co-pastors at Simpsonwood United Methodist Church, ministry is the family business that suits them just fine.

David and Susan Allen Grady assumed their leadership roles at Simpsonwood on July 6, and since then they have kept rather busy getting to know their faith community. Both pastors are first career clergy that have worked separately in several church management roles in different places. Most of their ministries have been in Intown Atlanta communities around Dekalb county, as well as churches in Cobb and Fulton Counties.

For a bit of background, the pair met during seminary at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. David spent some time in the United Kingdom then went back home to Alabama, and later his marriage to Susan led them back to the Atlanta area. Since then, he has lived and worked throughout different parts of Georgia, serving congregations of various sizes in Roswell and the Chamblee/Tucker areas, to name a few.

Then the bishop surprisingly called both David and Susan to Peachtree Corners.

The family business

Susan grew up as a pastor’s kid in Georgia, so she said, “we kind of jokingly say it’s like our family business.” And the cycle continues as the couple have a daughter in 7th grade at Pinckneyville Middle School. It’s an unexpected perk of the job that with both parents working at the church, the whole family can spend Sunday mornings together in the same place.

In the unique position of serving together in the same church body for the first time, David and Susan remark on the blessings that the arrangement offers for them personally and for Simpsonwood.

“We are different. We have different gifts, different interests and different skills. We know each other well after being married for years, so it’s a blessing to see each other really shining and doing the things that we are both gifted for and love, supporting each other in that,” Susan said.

“And also, having that person that is your equal teammate to bounce ideas off of and to get advice from, to check in with when we’re doing new things, those are some real blessings that we deeply value.”

David had this to say in addition to Susan’s thoughts. “And I think another blessing for our congregation and our life is that we get to model leadership a little bit differently, in kind of a shared model leadership. I think the other piece to this is that one of the things we might be learning is that Peachtree Corners is maybe at the front edge of a generational turning over,” he said. “So we can, in our work, model ways of being professional, model ways of being in relationships, and model what is healthy and what healthy behavior looks like for life together.”

In their short time here in Peachtree Corners, David and Susan have noticed that this is a town with a strong sense of identity and community-mindedness. “This is a destination for people, even more than just the next community over, as in ‘I want to move to the next community over’ for whatever reason. But Peachtree Corners is a place people are choosing specifically and there is a sense of identity in that also.”

“It doesn’t feel like a stereotypical suburb because you see people that you know when you go places. This is a community that people are investing themselves in, rather than just a ‘bedroom’ community.”

Holiday events, traditional and new

As the holiday season approaches, there is a palpable sense of anticipation for the extraordinary events that will take place at Simpsonwood UMC. The locally famous Walk Through Bethlehem returns December 10-12 in its more traditional form, as opposed to last year’s movie experience that was incorporated into the online Christmas Eve service.

“We are excited to offer a Christmas Eve service that is more what people are used to,” David said.

Additionally, a brand-new Traveler’s Christmas Eve service will also be available on December 19, in addition to the standard service times, to accommodate churchgoers that may be out of town at Christmastime.

So David and Susan will have ample opportunity to meet and greet with much of their community, and they will continue to dedicate themselves to getting to know what makes Simpsonwood tick.

“When we are new in a church, we spend, really, a full year — but definitely the first six month or so — really getting to know the place and the community,” Susan said. “We are excited to see what the Christmas traditions are, those in Peachtree Corners and Simpsonwood, and bring our own ideas, like the Travel’s Christmas service,” Susan said.

For more information on David, Susan and Simpsonwood UMC, please visit simpsonwoodumc.org.

Kelsey Asher is a proud graduate of the University of West Georgia with a Bachelor’s in Communications. She has held a variety of marketing leadership roles for several small, startup companies in a variety of industries including publishing, construction and technology.

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Faith

A History of Simpsonwood UMC

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The Chanel Choir and church interior

In a clearing in the woods of Georgia stands a church known as Simpsonwood United Methodist Church (UMC). Over the past 40 years, the city around it has grown and so has the church — from a humble trailer to an interactive campus where young and old do the Lord’s work.

A glorious gift

The church’s history began in 1971 with a generous gift of land, bestowed by a local Christian benefactor. In 1910, Anna Louise Simpson, “Miss Ludie” to her many students, began her teaching career in the Atlanta and Gwinnett County School systems. Her career had spanned 35 years and she retired at age 70.

Founding Pastor, Rev. George Freeman with founding member Carolyn Barr

Originally the family farm, the land is a beautiful tract of some 277 prime acres located on the Chattahoochee River. Miss Ludie attended a small circuit church in nearby Mount Carmel, serviced by both Presbyterian and Methodist circuit ministers. She happened to join the church during one of the Presbyterian “alternate” Sundays. Still, she remained close to both denominations.

Faith Meshida, violinist at service

In 1971 at the age of 84, Miss Ludie shared her vision that her land be kept intact so all people could enjoy God’s beautiful creation. The land was first offered to the Presbyterian Church. However, the Presbyterians preferred to establish churches in more populated areas other than the small, rural community which later became known as Peachtree Corners.

Miss Ludie then approached Bishop John O. Smith, who asked Dr. Candler Budd to visit with her and discuss the offer. Within 24 hours, Dr. Budd assured her that the United Methodist Church wanted the land and would faithfully honor her conditions, including the construction and maintenance of a small chapel dedicated to the memory of her mother, Elizabeth Jane Sanders Simpson.

In 1973, the North Georgia Annual Conference took the first steps to develop the land into a retreat and conference center. Many years later, the retreat center was sold and is now maintained as a park by Gwinnett County.

Miss Ludie passed away on April 29, 1975, without seeing the development of the beautiful conference center that bears her name. She is buried with her mother in the Mount Carmel United Methodist Church cemetery in Norcross.

Faith and vision

By 1981, Simpsonwood UMC’s first minister, Dr. George R. Freeman, Jr., the son of a Methodist minister, was approached to develop a new congregation near the property. At the time, George was the Associate Pastor of the East Point First Methodist Church in East Point.

George initially approached Jim Cowart, the developer of Peachtree Station, the first upscale subdivision in Peachtree Corners. Jim had allocated land to develop neighborhood churches at the intersection of Peachtree Corners Circle and West Jones Bridge Road, the current locations of the Peachtree Corners Baptist Church and the Fowler YMCA.

Guppies Choir

An 11-acre tract of land on the corner of the Simpsonwood property and across Jones Bridge Circle was designated for the construction of the new church. The Conference New Church Development Committee allocated $150,000 for the church construction. Most of the money would be used to excavate and develop the sloping, rocky lot into a usable foundation.

In those days, metal buildings were typically erected to begin the development of a church. Once a congregation was formed and the new church had adequate financing, a permanent sanctuary would be constructed.

George strongly felt that given the potential upscale development of Peachtree Corners, people would be more inclined to notice the new church if a more appropriate wooden building could be constructed and painted to compliment the natural surroundings.

George approached a builder of modular and manufactured homes in Gainesville to price plans and specifications for the new building. He requested a large open area, unobstructed by center supports, that would seat at least 200 people, with two offices in the back and a large, double-door entranceway. George also wanted taller, narrow windows and exterior siding constructed of wood and painted to match the natural surroundings.

40th Anniversary dinner in the Henry and Barbara Howard Family Life Center

Constructed at a cost of $35,000, the completed building was delivered and set up. Financing for the cost of the project was obtained through the Conference Ten-Dollar Club, a large group of Methodist members who donated the sum of $10 twice each year for the future construction of new churches. 

With the “trailer” completed, Simpsonwood UMC had its official beginning on Sunday, March 14, 1982, followed by the Service of Constitution on May 30, 1982. Thirty-seven charter members of the first congregation made their oral petition for Charter.

A covered dish dinner at the picnic pavilion celebrated the new Christian fellowship. Simpsonwood UMC was on its way!

Solid and continued growth

The congregation grew in size, laying a solid foundation while building for the future. Phase One of the master plan called for a magnificent 15,000-square-foot building that was to become the new sanctuary.

On February 10, 1985, the congregation triumphantly walked across Jones Bridge Circle for the groundbreaking ceremony of its permanent church home.

The new sanctuary was completed in time for the church’s first service on Sunday, August 24, 1986, followed by the consecration service three weeks later on September 14, 1986.

The “trailer,” as the temporary building came to be known, was transported across the street and located behind the Sanctuary, where it served the church’s Christian Youth Ministries for many years.

Years later, the congregation held its collective breath as the old trailer was moved a third time to its present location on the east side of the sanctuary and in back of the parking lot.

Through the years, Simpsonwood UMC has continued to grow in size and in membership, creating the need for additional space. In the spring of 1995, the church launched its “Standing on the Threshold” campaign to raise funding for the construction of an education building.

It was finished and dedicated on December 14, 1997. The building currently houses church staff and contains a library, classrooms and the Simpsonwood UMC preschool.

The new millennium brought continued growth, along with the realization that additional space would be required as the congregation grew. In 2004, the concept of a family life center was born.

A building committee was appointed, and in 2005, the “Building in Faith” campaign was launched. The church’s initial financial goals were met in September of that year and construction of the Howard Family Life Center was completed in the fall of 2007.

Many more blessings to count

Simpsonwood UMC has been blessed over the years. Under the leadership of its present and past ministerial staff, the church has grown from a handful of charter members in 1982 to a congregation of over 1,600 members today.

Beginning with Founding Minister George R. Freeman, Jr., the church grew from a concept. George served the church from his appointment in June 1981 until June 1988. That month, Dr. Robert Brown continued the Simpsonwood ministry, serving its congregation until June 1990.

At that time, the conference appointed Dr. Laurence McCullough, Jr. as the church’s third pastor. Through his 20 years of leadership, the church greatly expanded its membership, facilities and programs to include local, national and international missions.

In June 2005, Simpsonwood UMC was blessed again by the appointment of The Reverend Keith Lawder as Associate Pastor. A member of the congregation since February 1989, Keith became Student Pastor in June 2002 while completing Seminary.

Simpsonwood UMC’s future is bright. In 2021, a husband-and-wife team was appointed as co-senior pastors. Susan and Dave Allen Grady are the current pastors and have a long-range vision for the church’s continued growth and mission.

The church continues to honor its long-standing mission: “To Know Christ and Make Him Known.” Within 40 years, Simpsonwood UMC has moved from a simple trailer to a magnificent sanctuary and surrounding campus that serves a growing, faithful congregation.

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Faith

Christ the King Craft Fair Returns for Its 35th Year

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Images from previous years courtesy of Christ the King Lutheran Church. Some of the photos are by Stephanie Walters Logue.

Christ the King Lutheran Craft Fair is a nonprofit fundraising craft fair that takes place annually in Peachtree Corners and is sponsored by Christ the King Church Women’s League. It sells a host of handmade crafts and baked goods.

This year, the fair will be celebrating 35 years of crafting for the community on Nov. 5 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Nov. 6 from 9 p.m. to 1 p.m. at Christ the King Lutheran Church.

Christ the King Lutheran Craft Fair grows every year but remains a constant, fun opportunity to support local, charitable, faith-based causes including Norcross Co-op (which provides emergency assistance to families in Southwest Gwinnett), The Next Stop (creating community for adults with developmental disabilities), Interfaith Outreach Home (working to connect houseless families with housing resources) and Inspiritus (helping people from various disruptive life paths move towards healing and security).

Crafting for others

The fair is possible due to the dedication of the Crafty Ladies, made up of mostly Christ the King Lutheran Church members who gather twice a week to brainstorm and craft together throughout the year in preparation for the annual craft fair.

Group members are not required to be churchgoers or to craft exclusively with the Crafty Ladies; they must only be willing to donate their skills and time to the fair.

The fair is also supported by another craft group that meets bimonthly at the Christ the King Lutheran Church called Knitting for the Needs of Others, known as KNOTS. KNOTS members knit and teach knitting, but crocheting is also welcome.

They primarily knot for the Norcross Co-op and make baby blankets for children baptized at Christ the King Lutheran Church. They also make hats, scarves and gloves for the Christ the King Craft Fair and donate anything that doesn’t sell.

Shop for yourself or for holiday gifts

The products available at the fair are as plentiful and diverse as the organizations that your purchases support. Dozens of vendors will be selling home and kitchen goods and decor as well as clothing for children and adults, beauty products, jewelry, accessories and plushies.

Many of the vendors’ wares will be Christmas and fall-themed, with wreaths, ornaments and table and mantle decorations lining the booth tables.

You can also expect to smell — and taste! — deliciousness in the form of brownies, cookies and pies at the Bake Sale. There will be food and drink available in addition to pastries, so you can lunch while you shop.

Though there won’t be a silent auction or online component to this year’s fair, attendees can enjoy a used book sale, free kids crafts and a quilt raffle.

Crafty Lady Lisa Bergstresser started contributing to the craft fair when she moved to Peachtree Corners two years ago, and she spoke to its value to herself and the community.

“It is for the community and for charity,” Bergstresser said. “It creates growth within our church and community as we get to know each other and satisfaction knowing we are helping organizations who help those in need.”

Plan to get started on your Christmas shopping at Christ the King Craft Fair. While you shop for your loved ones, you’ll be helping critical community organizations that experience heavier pressure during the holiday seasons.

For further details, contact fair chairman Marlaine Hysell at 678-852-8679 or follow the event’s Facebook page.

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Entertainment

A Musical Delight! Carnival of the Animals at Simpsonwood United Methodist

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Saturday, August 27. 7-8:30 p.m.

Family Life Center, Simpsonwood UMC

4500 Jones Bridge Circle, Peachtree Corners 30092

Reservations and info, eventcreate.com/e/carnivaloftheanimals

Donate at carnivaloftheanimalsdonate.com.

Admission is free; donations are welcome.

This family-friendly concert is divided into musical sections, each representing an animal or group of animals. The narration is based on poems by Ogden Nash. The orchestra is made up of extraordinarily gifted young instrumentalists and, in Act II, songs from various Broadway and film productions will be performed by talented vocalists. Reservations are required.  

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