MOULTRIE, Ga. — The Rev. Wayne Woods will officially retire as head pastor of First Baptist Church in Moultrie on Dec. 29, the last Sunday of the year. Before that time comes, the church will celebrate his tenure with the city at large on Dec. 8.
Woods joined First Baptist in 2009, but he preached in two churches prior to settling in Moultrie. He’s 66 years old now, but he gave his life to Christ long before, at the age of 15 at a Baptist church youth revival in his hometown of Wadley, Alabama.
“It wasn’t long after that that I had some sense of being called in a vocational ministry but I never pursued it at that point,” he said.
He’d be 31 before he listened to that calling again. Between that time was period of U.S. wayfaring via the United States military.
Woods graduated high school in Wadley in 1970 and after receiving an ROTC scholarship to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, he remained at the school for a year.
Being impressed by the ROTC experience and leadership opportunities, Woods was given an opportunity to attend the United States Naval Academy. Thinking about his younger brother’s upcoming college expenses and of setting an example, he took a chance.
“I didn’t grow up wanting to go to the academy, but it was an opportunity and so I pursued it,” he said. “I was fortunate to get nominated and accepted.”
He entered the academy from 1971 to 1975, subsequently entering the Navy. His brother would follow him to the academy in 1975 too.
Woods also married his then-girlfriend, June Woods, a registered nurse and “best friend since the 10th grade,” on June 7 that same year.
So from 1975 to 1982 would come a host of important events. Transferring under active duty from bases in Corpus Christi, Texas, to Pensacola, Florida, the couple ended up in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1978.
At the tail end of the year, their daughter, Stephanie Lynn was born, and three years later, their son, Brian Oliver, was born. Woods would also serve in two squadrons: one as an instructor and one under active duty in VP-5, a maritime patrol squadron.
By 1982, he was ready to leave the Navy.
“I was tired of being away from home,” he said. “It was a great experience for a guy from a small town. You go to see places and go places in the world I would have never seen otherwise.”
The Woods family would stay on the move after, however, going to Laurel, Mississippi, from 1982-1983, and Greenville, South Carolina in 1983. It was there he renewed his finding in Christ through a few neighborly couples.
“Quite providentially, we moved next door to a couple and across the street from another couple. Their families invited us to their church,” Woods said. “I tell people I think the Lord was calling me all along, I just wasn’t there to hear it. It was there and through their influence that I got back to a place where I could hear.”
Taking a spiritual walk with his wife, Woods would travel state to state in the Southeast trying to find his way in the seminary lifestyle. He’d settle on the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary that was in Memphis, Tennessee, then.
“I was fortunate enough to have the Vietnam era G.I. Bill so I was able to go straight through school and I got called to my first church to serve at the age of 34 in 1987,” Woods said.
It was the First Baptist Church of Alma and he’d stay there for 12 years before moving to the Grace Baptist Church in Oxford, Alabama, in 1999, and then to First Baptist Church in Moultrie in 2009, having his first service on Mother’s Day.
“The Lord has been very gracious to me and my family for all of our lives,” he said. “But certainly the joy we’ve had these 32-plus years of being a pastor of three churches has been a real blessing.”
Now, ten years later again, he’s moving on.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Woods said. “I’ve enjoyed over those 10 and a half years hiring everybody that’s on staff now. [Most] everybody that’s here now were not here when I came.”
But don’t be misled by his retirement. His pathway isn’t over, not by a long shot.
“I don’t know that your calling ever ends, it just changes direction,” he said. “I’ve said this to people — and I really believe it—in my life’s experience and seeing others as well, I believe the Lord has a man for a place for a time.”
And timing is everything. Woods said it’s not about being tired or burned out, but about being where you need to be at the right moment. For him, that will be as a part-time hospice chaplain for Colquitt Regional Medical Center.
He’ll be staying at First Baptist for the time being and will make the transition toward hospice chaplain in January. As for the church, he believed that it was time for a change. Enter a new pastor.
Matthew Peek, current pastor for the First Baptist Church of Pelham and former youth pastor for the First Baptist Church in Moultrie, will replace Woods as pastor come the first Sunday of 2020, Jan. 5.
“We have built a strong spiritual foundation among those who are here for whatever’s next,” Woods said. “It’ll be a smooth transition and I’m glad that it is. The church has been a wonderful experience.”