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Meet Chris Laskey, the new senior pastor at Cumming First United Methodist Church
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Chris Laskey took over as senior pastor at Cumming First United Methodist Church on Jan. 1, 2020, after eight-and-a-half years at a church in Jackson County. - photo by Brian Paglia

Chris Laskey was struggling to hear God.

It was August, and Laskey was senior pastor of Jefferson First United Methodist Church in Jackson County, about 30 minutes northwest of Athens. But after eight years in that role, Laskey sensed God was leading him somewhere else. He just wasn’t sure where.

Then someone mentioned to Laskey that Cumming First United Methodist Church was in need of a new senior pastor. The choice would be up to Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, the leader of the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church comprised of 12 church districts, but Laskey couldn’t help but wonder if he was being called to Cumming. So Laskey went to find out.

Laskey drove for about an hour to Cumming First United Methodist Church. He sat in his car in the church parking lot and prayed, hoping for a moment of divine insight.

Nothing.

Laskey went to leave. As he drove through the parking lot, Laskey noticed a sign for the church’s outdoor chapel. He parked, got out of his car and walked to the chapel. There he found a small, unadorned cross surrounded by primitive wooden benches.

Laskey sat on one of the benches and listened.

“It was there that the Lord kind of began to speak to me about [Cumming First United Methodist Church],” Laskey said.

Two months later, in November, Laskey was selected Cumming First United Methodist Church's new senior pastor.

Laskey’s transition has been a bit of a whirlwind. The United Methodist Church typically moves a pastor to their new church in June. Laskey’s first day at Cumming First United Methodist was Jan. 1.

Since then, Laskey has done a lot of listening. He’s heard about the church’s many ministries, from its robust food pantry to its longtime preschool. He attended his first finance meeting Tuesday. Last Sunday, the church hosted a reception for the congregation to collectively meet Laskey in an informal setting.

“It’s about relationships,” Laskey said, “so I’m trying to get started in building relationships.”

But Cumming First United Methodist’s congregation has had ample opportunities to hear from Laskey since his arrival. Normally, the church’s senior pastor preaches two of the three Sunday services. Laskey decided to preach all three this month. His sermon series is called “Contending for Faith,” in which he’s emphasized to the congregation the need for each person to have a “prayer closet,” a time every day to “grow in intimacy with the Lord,” he said, to listen.

Laskey began his professional life as a chemist with Johnson & Johnson, the multinational corporation that develops medical devices and consumer goods. He worked in compliance and regulatory assistance.

At home, Laskey, his wife, Tiersa, and their three sons (they have a daughter now, too) got more and more involved at Winder First United Methodist Church. Laskey stepped into leadership roles, and the more he did, the more he felt God calling him to full-time ministry.

In 2005, Laskey left his corporate job and enrolled at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He graduated and became associate pastor of a church in Evans, Georgia, near Augusta. Laskey was then sent to Jefferson.

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Chris Laskey took over as senior pastor at Cumming First United Methodist Church on Jan. 1, 2020, after eight-and-a-half years at a church in Jackson County. - photo by Brian Paglia

He now comes to Cumming First United Methodist at a pivotal moment in the United Methodist Church’s history. Divisions over gay marriage and gay clergy have created a potential schism in the denomination. Last February, at a specially-called conference in St. Louis, delegates voted 438-384 for a proposal called the Traditional Plan, which affirmed bans on LGBTQ-inclusive practices. A majority of U.S.-based delegates opposed the plan but were outvoted by U.S. conservatives and delegates from Africa and the Philippines.

In January, a group of bishops and other church leaders offered a proposal that would allow “traditionalist-minded” churches to split from the denomination. That proposal is expected to be voted on at the United Methodist 2020 General Conference in May.

Laskey hesitates to predict what will happen at the General Conference, but he is grateful “to have five months of relationship-building” at Cumming First United Methodist before then, he said.

By then, the congregation could learn that Laskey and his family are big fans of Star Wars and the Marvel movies. That he likes to work out with his sons. That he’s “super excited” to live so close to Sawnee Mountain.

By then, the congregation could get a better grasp of his vision for Cumming First United Methodist Church as one that embraces both “word and spirit,” he said.

“Some churches lean really into the word without much consideration for the [Holy] Spirit,” Laskey said. “And some churches lean heavily into the Spirit without as much consideration for the word of God. I think we need to be a spirit and word church.”