North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

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May 1, 2013

Healing from the storm: Fultondale church that reached out to others is now growing quickly



Rachel Radeline Gonia, is the pastor at First Methodist Church in Hoover.

Having three congregations between them keeps life busy, but the couple makes time for family.

Both Gonias take Friday off, and they always spend that day together. And they reserve Saturdays for family; they spend Saturdays with their daughter Jessie, who is 21.

It is not easy for a pastor to have a real day off with no phone calls; he said the only true time he gets off work is when he goes out of town.

“The world doesn’t quit turning; you just have to jump off,” he said about taking days off.

Gonia said his favorite aspect of being a pastor is building relationships with people.

“A pastor gets to see things most people don’t get to see,” he said, such as the faces of a newly married couple when he pronounces them man and wife. “Their backs are to the audience, so nobody gets to see their faces when it dawns on them for the first time, except for the pastor.”

He said pastors are invited in at special moments where most people are not invited, such as death beds, surgeries, tragedies, and even happy moments like anniversaries or the birth of a child.

“I love being involved in people’s lives,” he said. “It’s so cool to see those holy moments.”

Gonia’s personal style is perhaps the reason people are not reluctant to invite him in to their private moments. He describes himself as a traditionalist.

“I’ve done a lot of things that center us,” he said, such as place the pulpit back into the sanctuary, wear the robe and stole that many Methodist pastors wear, and sing and worship in certain ways.

He said people have reacted well.

“I try real hard to be a realistic preacher,” he said. “You’ve got to practice what you preach. Whether you like me or not, I’m pretty real. I’ve got my own stories and my own sins. I need saving as much as anybody else.”

Gonia’s theology is deep, but his philosophy is simple.

“I have always loved God and I have always loved people,” he said with a smile. “Those two should spend more time together.”

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