Framed family photos, maps and academic degrees. Book shelves stacked with hardbacks and strategically placed Beatles memorabilia.
One can learn a lot about a person from their office. That is certainly true about the Rev. Dr. Bill Daniel. The new pastor at College Place United Methodist Church has a colorful space, tucked away in the church on Altama Avenue in Brunswick. It is fitting, considering Daniel’s own colorful past.
Settling into his chair after an afternoon hospital visit, he holds tight to his bright yellow Beatles coffee mug.
“All you need is love, right?,” he queries with a smile, pointing to the famous lyric emblazoned on the cup.
It isn’t just a line from his favorite band. It is something he fully believes. In fact, he has dedicated his career — 30 years in the ministry — to sharing that very idea.
That concept has taken Daniel far and wide, even into an active war zone.
“Most of my career, I’ve been oversees. I got my doctorate, my PhD, from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. So I have a taste for international issues and when I finished I already had some experience in the ministry but I had a strong desire to go to Africa to teach,” he said.
“I really don’t know what that was other than ... when I was young I always loved National Geographic. So I did. I went to Liberia.”
That was in the mid-90s, a turbulent time for the country that had dissolved into civil war. Daniel spent years there, teaching other pastors and doing missionary work. But as the situation became more and more desperate, things started to fall apart.
“We were caught up in some intrigue and some violence there. We were evacuated out by special forces from the U.S. Embassy,” he said.
Daniel, who was accompanied by his wife and small children at the time, had his faith tested during the chaos in Sierra Leon. But he remained steadfastly devoted, however shaken he may have been from bombings or facing machete-wielding soldiers.
“We spent three days under fire. And I certainly gave thanks for surviving that. I was just this mild-mannered pastor that got caught up in this global, geo-political chaos,” he said. “It was a strange experience.”
After that, Daniel returned to the states to decompress and recover from the traumatic incident. But he soon returned to his work, this time stationed in Vienna, Austria.
“That was just after the wall had fallen and I was working with pastors who had been behind the Iron Curtain,” he said. “So that was interesting.”
After his permanent return, Daniel adopted a more stable lifestyle. He taught future pastors at Emory University’s school of divinity in Atlanta for 15 years. Recently, he was tapped by the Methodist bishop to move to a new home, College Place United Methodist Church in Brunswick.
But he’s not the only new kid on the block so to speak. The College of Coastal Georgia and Brunswick High School, both neighbors of the congregation have a new president and principle, respectively.
“There are a lot of exciting things happening over here,” Daniel said with a smile.
There is also new developments in the local Methodist community itself. The Rev. Wright Culpepper took the reigns of First United Methodist Church with his son, Bill, assisting.
“I actually taught Bill at Emory so it was really neat to come here and have him in the ministry,” he said, twisting a guitar pick he found on his desk between his fingers.
“The Culpeppers are great people and what Wright has done with his ministry here is incredible. One of my goals is to work with them and others to be good representatives and love on the people.”
Outside of his work as a pastor, Daniel has many interests. One of which is music. Not only is he an avid Beatles fan, he also plays the bass.
“I wanted to play bass because of Paul McCartney,” he said. “I was in a band with a couple of United Methodist ministers in Atlanta ... we played a lot of blues music. You know, sharing good news through the blues ... kind of thing.”
And, as a Jacksonville native, he also found a connection to a bit of Southern rock.
“Two of us in the band grew up in Jacksonville in the era of (Lynyrd) Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers (both from Jacksonville). Actually, our drummer, who is a Methodist minister played with the Allman Brothers and early versions of Skynyrd. So we have a number of their cast away instruments,” he said.
Just as his faith and his music have sustained him, Daniel also relies on a sense of community and he feels that is what he has found in his new home.
“Everyone has been just wonderful to us. This is a very loving community and it feels like I’ve come home in a lot of ways,” Daniel said with a smile.