Hearing the Call
With encouragement from his pastors at Andrews Chapel United Methodist Church in Calabash, John Bracey changed careers in his forties and ultimately became a pastor at his home church.
Growing up in Fair Bluff, Bracey was the third oldest of four children. After graduating from West Columbus High School in Fair Bluff, he started attending Cape Fear Technical College, but he says he wasn’t focused on his studies. He had been working full time in a grocery store, so he left college and kept working.
Years later he became the assistant manager of Food Lion in Carolina Shores then the store manager at the Shallotte Food Lion. In 2004 Bracey and his wife, Sami, started attending Andrews Chapel United Methodist Church in Calabash. He got friendly with then-pastor J. Phillip Norris and retired pastor Mal Workman.
“One day while attending an adult Sunday School class, Mal Workman was putting together the schedule for the next week and he asked me if I’d like to teach a Sunday School class on a regular basis,” Bracey says. “Before I could protest, Mal signed me up. As the months went by, I found that I really enjoyed teaching the Sunday School classes.”
After Bracey had taught Sunday School for about a year, Norris asked Bracey if he might consider going into pastoral ministry.
“I had never seriously thought about it, but I like helping people so I took the next steps to becoming a licensed pastor,” Bracey says. “My goal seemed so far away, but I kept taking each step that was asked of me.”
That meant studying for his Course of Study (C.O.S.) degree at Duke University’s Divinity School while working a full-time job. The C.O.S. was established by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church as an alternate educational route for people wanting to serve as pastors in United Methodist congregations. People can study part-time and work outside jobs plus work in the church.
Bracey started studying for his C.O.S. degree in 2010. After a year of candidacy and being mentored by Richard Vaughan, then-pastor of Camp United Methodist Church in Shallotte, he was off to North Carolina Wesleyan for licensing.
Later in 2010 he was appointed pastor of Shiloh United Methodist Church in Leland, which had a congregation of about 25 people at time and later grew.
In 2013 he was moved to Hallsboro United Methodist Church, which had a larger congregation. In 2016, when he had finished his C.O.S. degree, he was appointed as the full-time pastor of his home church of Andrews Chapel United Methodist Church in Calabash.
“That was a dream come true for me because not only was I comfortable in my own home parish, but I like living in the scenic town of Calabash, which is the ‘seafood capital of the world,’” Bracey says.
Founded in 1884 on Ash Little River Road in Ash, Andrews Chapel was dismantled in 1940 and moved to its current location on Hickman Road in Calabash, using what the congregation could salvage from the former building. Bracey is the 21st pastor of Andrews Chapel UMC, according to records, and the church itself was named for a circuit rider named Andrews who was passing through the area. A circuit rider was a clergyman who traveled on horseback from church to church especially within a rural Methodist circuit. Today Andrews Chapel has a membership of 184 people, and as a local pastor Bracey preaches and teaches the scriptures and performs weddings, baptisms, funerals and prayer services. He also provides spiritual guidance to the community.
Becoming a Methodist pastor meant that Bracey’s career path took a major change.
“For 20 years I was managing grocery stores, and even when I was studying to become a pastor I worked an Arnold Bread delivery route,” Bracey says. “Driving that truck and making deliveries from Little River to Myrtle Beach five days a week gave me the chance to reflect on my career change. It made me realize how much I wanted to become a pastor. I wanted to serve others in a different way.”
He says that starting his C.O.S. degree at 42 years old and making a drastic career change wasn’t something he had expected.
“In a way I was tapped on the shoulder and asked to serve God by leading a Methodist Church congregation,” he says. “I don’t regret the choices I made earlier on, don’t regret the jobs I’ve had, it’s just that sometimes in life we have the chance to make changes and that has opened up whole new opportunities for me.”
Bracey says that Sami has been by his side every step of the way and has been enormously helpful in supporting the people in their church.
“She lights up people’s lives and makes a real difference,” Bracey says.
The two were married in 2003, and with their blended family they have three grown children and six grandchildren, all of whom live pretty close by in Brunswick County so they get to see them often.
In his free time Bracey likes to go bass fishing at friend Alison Blackmon’s pond in Ash. After catching the fish, Bracey tosses them back into the water, but he gets a thrill out of catching them. He also enjoys photography, shooting sunrises with his Canon camera.
“There is nothing like the greatest show on earth taking place almost every morning and having my camera there to capture it,” Bracey says. “During this quiet time, I have the chance to meditate, pray and commune with nature. I reflect on whatever is on my mind, and I turn over any concerns or tribulations to God for Him to handle. Photography is really enjoyable and relaxing for me. I post the best pictures on Facebook. Many people know me on social media as ‘Calabash John’ — that’s my Facebook nickname because I post lots of pretty pictures from Calabash.”
Bracey credits his mother, Phyllis, for teaching him all about hard work and determination.
“She went back to school in her mid-thirties to get her R.N. degree all while raising three teenagers and a toddler,” Bracey says.
He credits his father for instilling compassion in his children: “My father, John, Sr., was the greatest man I’ve ever known. His love for his children and his kind spirit are what I miss the most. He worked as a service advisor for Fair Bluff Motors back when I was a kid in Columbus County and he treated each customer as if they were family. My dad passed away in 2001, and whenever I think about a role model for kindness and compassion, the person I picture is always my dad.”
Noting that Andrews Chapel is a place where those who are searching can find the love of God and those who are lost can find a home, Bracey says one of his favorite quotations from Scriptures is: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
For information about Andrews Chapel UMC contact:
Pastor John Bracey at (910) 209-6249
1091 Hickman Road NW, Calabash