ADVOCATE: Where did you grow up? Have you always lived in South Georgia?
DR. COOPER: I grew up in Powersville, a small community seven miles from Fort Valley and four miles from Byron, just off highway 49. I have always lived in South Georgia and have served across the Conference. During the past 40 years, I have served as youth director for Pittman Park United Methodist Church in Statesboro, the Crawford County Circuit, East Macon, Christ United Methodist Church in Albany, Christ United Methodist Church in Warner Robins, Waycross First United Methodist Church, Central United Methodist Church in Fitzgerald and St. Paul United Methodist Church in Columbus.
ADVOCATE: What’s your faith journey? Did you grow up in the church?
DR. COOPER: My faith journey began in my being born into a Christian family. I was baptized, raised, and confirmed in Powersville UMC. There have been many influences along the way including Campus Crusade for Christ’s Athletes in Action camp at Camp Calvin near Peachtree City. My growing edge is on communicating the Gospel truth through story and sermon.
ADVOCATE: How did you get started in ministry?
DR. COOPER: I met with the Macon District Board of Ministry, shared my sense of being called to “Be God’s man and to love His people” with them and was guided toward becoming Rev. Shannon Holloway’s youth director at Pittman Park UMC. After two years, I graduated from Georgia Southern University and moved back to Powersville to serve the Crawford County Circuit while attending Emory University. It was at the end of my junior year at Candler that I married Sheila Davis.
ADVOCATE: Tell us about your family.
DR. COOPER: I have been married to Sheila for 37 years this June 14. She is a middle school math specialist at Midland Middle School in Columbus. She remediates the students who have failed the CRCT test and prepares them for the next year’s test. She is an honor graduate from Valdosta State University. We have a son, Edwin M. “Eddie” Cooper, III, who works at Columbus Body Works. He has been on a mission trip to the Ukraine and has traveled with me overseas. He is a member of St. Paul UMC and a former elementary Sunday school teacher. He loves reading history and theology. Our daughter Charlotte is married to Jason McDonald. Jason works at Synovus/CB&T. She is getting her RN license this coming December. She has taught dance and gymnastics in the past. They also live in Columbus and love boating.
ADVOCATE: How did you find out that you had been appointed to be a District Superintendent? Did you get a call from Bishop King? What was your reaction?
DR. COOPER: Bishop King asked me to meet him in Byron at the McDonald’s and it was there that he invited me to become a part of the appointive cabinet and I accepted with humility and joy. One never knows if he or she will be asked to serve in the cabinet. It catches you by surprise and you begin to reflect upon all the District Superintendents you have served under, ranking them in order of effectiveness and usefulness, looking for models of ministry.
ADVOCATE: What are your visions, goals and hopes for the Columbus District?
DR. COOPER: I see us as a servant team holding hands in a circle, facing out, looking for those not yet in our circle. One of my goals is to help equip our churches to do the work of evangelism and another is to be helpful to our ministers in their search for effectiveness in specific areas of ministry. We are a team and a part of the larger South Georgia Conference.
ADVOCATE: What are the biggest challenges you see facing the Conference or District?
DR. COOPER: To communicate the Good News in a way people can assimilate it and to keep our feet planted firmly in the Bible as our authority in the face of pressure to fundamentally change our Church. We need to do the things that made us a great church, such as teaching, preaching and praying for our people.
ADVOCATE: What most excites you about the Columbus District or the South Georgia Conference?
DR. COOPER: It is my home. I have lived here all my life and know our people. They have served with those of us in the clergy and share our dreams of a growing, fruitful church. I believe we are on the cusp of transformation in the South Georgia Conference. It is time for our church to not just grow, but to thrive. It is a wonderful time to be in leadership.
ADVOCATE: What do you like best about serving in the South Georgia Conference?
DR. COOPER: After 38 years, I have lived long enough to know that God is not through with us yet. Not nearly through with us! I have had the privilege of serving among the people I grew up with in South Georgia. South Georgia still has enough innocence to blush and enough humility to know we should at times humble ourselves and repent of notions that distract us from our service to God through His church.
ADVOCATE: How do you, in the midst of your busy schedule and your traveling, make time for your quiet time, prayer, and Bible study?
DR. COOPER: I rise early in the morning and spend time in reflection and prayer. By the time the phone starts ringing I am prepared to face the day. I tried other times, but basically found that once people are up and moving around they have an expectation for us to be among them! It is hard to keep any discipline, but the undisciplined life is not worth living. The phrases, “Is this the day you want to go out on?” or “Is this the sermon you want to go out on?” or “Is this your personal best?” goad and motivate me to keep moving the bar up. The Bible is truly fresh every morning, as we look for guidance for our lives and our life together.
ADVOCATE: What do you like to do in your free time (if you have any!)? What are your hobbies and interests?
DR. COOPER: I like to play golf. I have for years traveled abroad each year, seeing Biblical sites and historical sites of Western Civilization. Writing is another hobby of mine. I have written several books, including, “A Month of Sundays,” “When You Have the Final Word,” “Becoming Ancestors,” “Final Things: Life’s Final Acts,” and “The Titanic Syndrome.” Dr. Art Justice and I wrote an adult confirmation study entitled “Who Are We? Thinking Theologically About Our Lives.” I also enjoy watching golf, the “Law & Order” dramas, and “Swamp People” to unwind.
ADVOCATE: What’s one fact about you that most people don’t know?
DR. COOPER: I am a patient minister. I have infinite patience with anyone who is trying. I live by a calendar, and, as a minister, have had to be disciplined beyond reasonableness, but I am called to love and be present with people. I am paid to attend meetings, but I am called to be with and for people. I am paid to write reports, but I am called to report to your side when you are in need. I have no time to waste, but unmeasured time to give to those I serve. It is a paradox that all ministers understand: our service to others occurs in eternity; therefore one never runs out of time to serve. I may look busy, and I am, but I am just waiting upon God’s next call to serve, as are we all.