This is the second in a two-part series that will introduce the new District Superintendents
ADVOCATE: Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? Have you always lived in South Georgia?
REV. THOMPSON: I was born in Augusta but my dad worked for Westinghouse, so that was the perfect preparation for being a Methodist pastor because I actually moved more with my dad than I have as a pastor. We moved all over. Westinghouse was headquartered in Pittsburgh and they had places all over western Pennsylvania, so we were all over that area. I grew up there and went to school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where I got a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. I was a research chemist for a little over two years with Bayer Corporation before I went to seminary at Asbury.
ADVOCATE: What’s your faith journey?
REV. THOMPSON: It was through a United Methodist youth program and youth retreat that I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The theme of the retreat was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” set for youth, and I had a powerful encounter with Christ. It changed my whole life. It changed my outlook on life, my family situation, the dynamics of our family, my studies, everything.
In college I became involved with a group called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. They are very big in discipleship and missions, and through participating in one of their international student missions conferences ... I realized that whatever I did professionally would be a tool for sharing the gospel. I had that sense that our vocation is literally our calling; it’s what we’re to do in order to serve God. I just didn’t realize that I was going to be a preacher.
After graduation I took my very first mission trip – for four months – and lived on a ship and did medical relief work. That summer I realized that, as much as I enjoyed the medical things we were doing, the ministry is what I am supposed to be doing.
But I already had a job as a chemist lined up, so I worked for a few years, paid off student loans, worked as a part-time youth pastor at a United Methodist Church, and then decided to go to Asbury Seminary.
ADVOCATE: Tell us about your ministry philosophy and your guiding principles.
REV. THOMPSON: Everywhere you go is a mission field. You don’t have to get on a plane and go overseas to be on the mission field. If you are a baptized believer in Christ, you’re on the mission field.
I think if we would look at everything around us as a mission field we would see more opportunities to share the gospel.
John Wesley said it first – the world is our parish – but you can flip it around and say the parish is our world. Where we are is our mission field, and that’s my philosophy of ministry. If all of our churches, if all of our lay people, looked at their world as a mission field there’d be no end to the amount of ministry we’d be given.
ADVOCATE: What are your visions, goals, and hopes for the district?
REV. THOMPSON: This is a tense time in the life of The United Methodist Church, and it would be easy to get completely distracted by all that’s going on and neglect the mission that we have right at hand. I believe that the issues we’re facing are critical, but I also believe that the mission we’ve been given is essential to who we are, and we can’t forget about that.
One of my goals is to help us go through this time of change and transition and remember that we are Methodists. I want us to remember what it truly means to be called Methodist.
ADVOCATE: What are the things that most excite you about the district and/or the South Georgia Conference?
REV. THOMPSON: There’s huge potential across the district and the conference. The Coastal area of Georgia is one of the top five fastest growing areas of the United States. That’s a lot of potential. There are a lot of people moving into our communities and we have work to do. That’s exciting to me, that we have opportunities and the potential to do that.
I’m also excited by how much more we can accomplish as we work together. There’s definitely a synergistic effect when we work with one another.
ADVOCATE: What are some of the biggest challenges you see facing the Conference or district?
REV. THOMPSON: I think our biggest challenge, honestly, is not forgetting who we are, who we belong to, and why we exist. If we can remember those things, all the rest of it will take care of itself. My goal is to anchor us in that so that we don’t forget who we are, who we belong to, and what we’ve been called to do.
ADVOCATE: What do you like best about serving in the South Georgia Conference?
REV. THOMPSON: Oh my gosh, I love South Georgia! It’s home. The variety is amazing to me. You have everything from the hills and mountains to the flat plains to the coastal areas and the farmland. There’s a huge variety of people; I love the people here. There’s an openness, there’s a greater degree of responsiveness to the gospel and the Church still has a strong witness of what it means to be the Church, and I love that about South Georgia.
ADVOCATE: Tell us about your family.
REV. THOMPSON: Jennifer is an ordained deacon, and she’s on transitional leave this year because we just moved. She was working as the administrative assistant in the Southwest district for Dr. Nita Crump and really enjoyed serving in that ministry. She has a M.A. in World Missions and Evangelism and we have three kids. Lydia is our oldest and she will be a senior in college this coming fall at Lee University. She is in Papua New Guinea right now, working and serving with Wycliffe Bible Translators for the summer. The funny thing is that’s where Jennifer went on her very first mission experience. Our twin boys, Ben and Luke, are seniors.
ADVOCATE: What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies and interests?
REV. THOMPSON: I have a boat and I love to fish and be out on the water. I like to read all kinds of different things.
ADVOCATE: What’s one fact about you that most people don’t know?
REV. THOMPSON: Jennifer and I have a competition to see who has been to more countries, and right now I’m winning. I’ve been to 42 different countries and all the continents but Antarctica (I’m not sure I’ll get there, but I might). We’d love to go to Greece at some point, but I think Alaska is next for us.