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Avid hiker, minister ready for next trek — retirement
John Cromartie, pastor of Cumming First United Methodist Church for the past 16 years, will enter retirement this summer with a series of hiking trips. - photo by Autumn Vetter

If you’re going

• What: Cumming First United Methodist Church 2013 Missions Auction

• When: March 2; spaghetti dinner at 5:30 p.m.; auction at 6:30 p.m.

• Where: Cumming First UMC Fellowship Hall, 770 Canton Hwy.

• Cost: $5 for dinner

• For more information, visit

For John Cromartie there are many parallels between his life’s calling and one of his favorite hobbies, hiking.

“It’s all a journey,” said Cromartie, who’s led the congregation of Cumming First United Methodist Church for the past 16 years. “There are a lot of connections because life is a series of challenges, hiking is a series of challenges, and you have to be prepared for the unexpected.”

Going into the ministry was a little unexpected for Cromartie.

He said serving as a pastor was “a third career” for him. He began his professional life as an attorney.

“I clerked for a federal district judge for a number of years, was in private practice in Gainesville and then was director of the legal aid program in Georgia for 20 years,” he said. “I went to seminary in my 40s and was still working full time.”

He joked that he was called to be a minister about age 6, but “just never did get around to it.”

Finally he did, with Cumming being just the second post in his service with the Methodist Church. His first was at Peachtree Road United Methodist in Atlanta.

Cromartie’s retiring this year because he’s reached age 72, which is the mandatory retirement age of the Methodist Church.

While he’s led Cumming church members spiritually every day for 16 years, he’ll get the chance to lead them in a different way before retiring June 16.

Cromartie has offered a chance for church members and the community to bid on two different hikes with him along the Appalachian Trail later this year.

“I led a group last year for just a one-night [hike] and … we had seven or eight people go, so I said, ‘Let’s try it again,’” he said.

The hike packages will be among several items up for bid during the church’s 2013 Mission Auction, which beings with a spaghetti dinner at 5:30 p.m. March 2. Silent and live auctions begin at 6:30 p.m.

“In early May, we’ll do a 140-mile hike in North Carolina on the Appalachian Trail,” Cromartie said. “Later [in May], we’ll do a hike of the entire Georgia [portion of the Appalachian Trail].”

The hikes will be broken down into different segments. Bidders during the March 2 event can put money on entire hikes or individual segments. Each segment will take a maximum of eight hikers.

Proceeds from the hiking packages, as well as the other items that will be up for auction at the event, will go toward the church’s missions programs, Cromartie said.

He said the primary beneficiary will be the church’s outreach in Ecuador.

“We’ve built a school down there and we go down each year and help with additions and with their program down there,” he said, noting that leading hikes, he felt, would be a good way to help with the cause.

A big fan of the outdoors, Cromartie has hiked many trails throughout several states in the U.S., as well as some other more exotic locations.

He said one of his favorites was a family trip to Africa.

“Our family climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa,” he said. “That’s about a 19,500-foot mountain … and we went as a family and hiked it together about 20 years ago or so.”

He’s also hiked trails in several northeastern states, such as Maine and Delaware, and some out West.

But he doesn’t discredit the Southeast’s trails, especially its portions of the Appalachian Trail, or AT.

“Our Georgia mountains are gorgeous, they really are,” he said. “The flowers are beautiful the spring and up into the summer.

“It’s just great to be out there and logistically, it’s easy to get to the AT in Georgia.”

He also joked that the Georgia wildlife is friendlier than in other parts of the country.

“Our bears here are not dangerous,” he said. “The bears out West, now they’re real bears. These bears here won’t eat you. If you treat them right, they’ll be pretty nice to you.”

There’s something about hiking that makes people a little nicer too, Cromartie added.

“One thing that I love about hiking is that it brings out the best in people rather than the worst,” he said. “Driving around in Atlanta traffic brings out the worst in people, but when you get a backpack on and you’re out there together on a trail it seems to bring out the best.

“You can always count on somebody helping you out and being cordial … on the trial, people will help you out and they look out for you.”

As for retirement, Cromartie said he would probably continue his work at the church if he could.

“I’d like to spend more time with my wife and my grandchildren, that sort of thing,” he said. “But I would love to have another 10 years to work here.

“It’s been a great time.”