Q & A with Dr. Matt Woodbery, Director of Connectional Ministries
“The rich blessings we have experienced inspire us and require us to serve others.”
Upon his retirement from the United States Army, Dr. Jerry Maddox (Matt) Woodbery, Jr. was appointed by Bishop Lawson Bryan to serve as Director of Connectional Ministries. His appointment began Aug. 1. A member in Full Connection and an Ordained Elder of the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church, Dr. Woodbery began his ordained ministry in 1985 as the associate minister at Americus First United Methodist Church.
ADVOCATE: Welcome home to South Georgia! What’s it like to be back in Georgia after serving nearly 30 years as a Chaplain and Colonel in the U.S. Army?
DR. WOODBERY: Carol and I are delighted to be back home! Throughout our time in the Army, we always looked forward to coming home for vacations, and now it’s wonderful to be back permanently. We’re also enjoying getting to know Macon again; this is where we met and had our first date.
ADVOCATE: What is your faith journey?
DR. WOODBERY: This journey started with my parents raising me in a loving home where questions of faith and doubt and how to live authentic Christian lives were nurtured. My father, Jerry Woodbery, was also a South Georgia UM minister and Army chaplain. He died in 1989 just after I came on active duty; my mother, Martha, has since married Norman Wells of Statesboro. Like many preacher kids, the last thing I wanted to do was become a minister or chaplain. While in high school in Okinawa, Japan, I became involved with a Roman Catholic youth ministry program called Teens Encounter with Christ (TEC, the progenitor of Chrysalis and Walk to Emmaus). Through TEC I began a several-year journey in discerning a call to ministry. At first I thought I was called to the parish. But after my experience with Clinical Pastoral Education during seminary at Candler, I discovered a call to extension ministry in service as military chaplain. That foundation has served me well, from the muddy fields of Bosnia, to the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, to the halls of the Pentagon.
ADVOCATE: Tell us about your ministry philosophy and your guiding principles.
DR. WOODBERY: Lately, I’ve been reflecting on Philippians 4:6-8: “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.” (CEB) I am struck with Paul’s emphasis on joy and peace in this passage, and how his instructions based on his experience that the pursuit of love, truth, beauty, and justice promises joy and peace. My second reflection comes Luke 12:48b: “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” (CEB) The rich blessings we have experienced inspire us and require us to serve others.
ADVOCATE: You have a unique perspective, having served as an extension minister for 29 years. How will your experiences, education, and personality help shape and guide your role as Director of Connectional Ministries?
DR. WOODBERY: With God’s help, my hope is to apply an equivalent sense of urgency, mission, and purpose to the South Georgia Conference that is expected in the military. Whether preparing for combat or planning a community picnic, the military community comes together with unity to accomplish the mission, regardless of race, gender-orientation, creed or religion or no religion, ethnicity, etc. My prayer is that I may be faithful to God’s call to bring my education and experience of serving with our nation’s best leaders. I have seen the strong men and women leading our military in combat and in the Pentagon, and have learned from their sense of devotion and their expertise in managing large and complex organizations in complicated and often chaotic high-stakes missions. Equal to that is my hope that my experiences working with the General Church through the United Methodist Endorsing Agency, as well as my experience working with the seminary leaders and the leaders of other denominations, will be valuable to the people of the South Georgia Conference, expanding our understanding of the extent of the Connection, both within Methodism and Christianity at large. We face historic challenges and opportunities in The United Methodist Church in the coming years, and I am excited to join our Conference team assisting the Bishop and the leadership of the Conference in navigating through these times, applying some of lessons and experiences with which I have been blessed.
ADVOCATE: How do you expect or envision your role will help move the Conference forward and help Bishop Bryan realize his vision?
DR. WOODBERY: The Book of Discipline mandates the Director of Connectional Ministries (DCM) to lead and manage the Connection in the Annual Conference; to be the steward of the Conference vision of ministry and practice of the Connection, from the individual to the local church to the General Church. When the Connection is effective and efficient, it is understood to be “aligned.” In appointing me as DCM, Bishop Bryan charged me with assessing where we as the South Georgia Conference are in alignment – with our stated purpose and mission for offering Christ to Georgia and our local communities, with how we raise and develop Christian leaders, and with how we offer the message of the hope of Christ to our communities and world. To that end, I will begin with looking at our Connectional Ministries offices and initiatives. This will be done simultaneously looking across the Conference to where we are aligning our stated mission, the Bishop’s vision, and the available resources of time, people, and money.
ADVOCATE: What are your visions, goals, and hopes for your new role and the Conference?
DR. WOODBERY: My vision for the Conference is that we may fully realize the call of God for the making of disciples for the transformation of the world. As United Methodists, we witness connection by envisioning our own roles within the building blocks that make up the structure of the church: from small groups and Sunday school classes to congregations, districts, annual conferences, and jurisdictions. All are a part of the Connection, also known as the body of Christ. My goal for the Office of Connectional Ministries is that we continue to be open to the Holy Spirit to be a source of innovation and encouragement for the Connection in South Georgia while being faithful to each other and the mission of the church. And finally, my hope is that we as United Methodists may claim our rich history and unique reputation around the world as practical Christians who seek to live authentically and with integrity the commission of Christ to “love one another as I have loved you.”
ADVOCATE: What are the things that most excite you about being DCM?
DR. WOODBERY: I am very excited about working with the dedicated OCM staff from whom I am already learning so much from. I am also excited about working with Bishop Bryan and my colleagues on the Cabinet and Extended Cabinet, as well as the leaders of the boards and agencies of the Conference, Jurisdiction, and General Church. But at the end of the day, I am mostly excited about making a difference. While on active duty in the Army, I was often asked “Why are you an Army Chaplain?” My standard reply was “After desiring to be obedient to God’s call on my life, I want to be on the cutting edge of history.” As the church faces transformational times ahead, I look forward to being “in the room where it happens” (apologies to Mr. Lin-Manuel Miranda.)
ADVOCATE: What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities you see facing the Conference?
DR. WOODBERY: First, I believe we need to develop a “piercing clarity”* about what makes the Conference in particular – but Methodism in general – distinctive from any other American Protestant denomination, from any other church on the street. What makes us a place that people will want to choose to join on the journey of life? How are we living out a life of Christ in such a way that those from the outside looking in see as making real difference in our communities? My experience as a United Methodist clergy interacting with other faith groups is that their perceptions of us seem to be that we are a community of believers living out authentic and active lives informed by the life-transforming love and boundless grace of God. In the living out, we are being disciples transforming the world with the Holy Spirit’s help. Secondly, we are seen as a church that is focused on social justice, where the ethical, moral, temporal, and eternal questions of the human experience are in tension. Emphasis on authenticity and integrity are imperative. We must stop trying to be in competition with other denominations and we must focus on being the best Methodists we can be. That requires a confidence of who we are in Christ; we may need to release some bad habits and relearn habits of living like Jesus. (* Jim Collins, “Good to Great”)
ADVOCATE: Tell us about your family.
DR. WOODBERY: I am married to Carol English Woodbery of Cochran. She is an artist, a volunteer, and a gardener but mostly a homemaker, having “made” 16 homes in the 34 years we have been married! We have one daughter, Callahan, who lives in Nashville, Tenn.
ADVOCATE: What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies and interests?
DR. WOODBERY: I am a bicycling enthusiast but don’t ride as much as I’d like. I also enjoy traveling, reading, watching sports, and dove and quail hunting.
ADVOCATE: What’s one fact about you that most people don’t know?
DR. WOODBERY: I have lived overseas for 16 years of my life: Germany three times, Japan twice, Korea, Iraq, Bosnia, and Afghanistan once apiece. I’ve served in the Washington D.C. area for a total of nearly seven years, but I have also lived in Georgia for 23 years of my life (early childhood, college and seminary, first appointment, and two assignments at Fort Gordon, GA in Augusta), not counting the numerous holidays visiting extended family. The longest I’ve ever lived under one roof continuously is 3.5 years (Augusta, Ga., 1992-1995.) My personal goal is to break that record in Macon!