United Church of Christ minister inspired by Pope John Paul II

The Rev. Jim Peck has an unusual background for a United Church of Christ minister.

He was raised Southern Baptist, began his working career as a regional planner and was inspired to become a pastor by Pope John Paul II.

Peck arrived in Chico in May after being called by the Congregational Church of Chico. The church on East First Avenue has had an interim pastor for several years.

Peck said he's glad to be in Chico and excited about his new position. He'll be formally installed at a special service on Sept. 14.

Born in North Carolina, he later moved with his family to Atlanta, where he went to high school and college.

He and his parents belonged to a "non-fundamentalist" Southern Baptist Church, "a wonderful church with a loving, caring spirit," he said. "I got a great education understanding the Bible."

He also developed an open mind, he said, as his parents and pastor advised him, "Don't let anybody tell you it's just one way."

Peck majored in urban studies at Mercer University and then did graduate work in regional planning at Cornell.

He worked in Atlanta for 10 years, specializing in affordable housing. He was employed by the state Housing Department.

In 1990, Peck went to work as an adviser to Colorado Gov. Roy Romer. He had 28 "issue areas" on which he advised the governor. One area was "church-state issues."

"That was a great job," he said. However, he'd gone into politics with the goal of helping people and after a time, he felt he was no longer doing much of that. He began thinking of a different career perhaps law, perhaps the ministry.

As it happened, Pope John Paul II came to Denver for a World Youth Day, and Peck was given two tickets. He and a friend went and found themselves sitting right in front of the stage. At one point they were just six feet from the pope.

It was amazing, being part of that event, where 350,000 people from all over the world were standing and singing, he said. "This clinched the deal" on a next move.

Peck said he told his friend, "I think I need to become a minister."

The vision he had was of "individual folks acting out of their faith commitments to help each other build a better world," he said.

Peck graduated in 1999 with a master's of divinity from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.

His first position was as pastor of a Congregational church in Austin, Minn., where he served until moving to Chico.

In Austin, he profited by his involvement with other ministers, he said. "I'm from a liberal tradition, but, boy, I sure have learned a lot from listening to my evangelical colleagues."

Peck said he joined the United Church of Christ before moving to Colorado. "I needed to be in a church that was a little more attentive to social-justice issues, especially race," he said.

Members of his Chico congregation impress him with their seriousness about Jesus' commandment to "love one another," he said. "It's a good church, a good group of folks."

He added, "I like the idea of helping a small church grow and thrive."

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