Spreading the Love with Keith Watson
Tell me about growing up in Macon? What did you do in your spare time?
I was born in Macon. When I was in 2nd grade my dad transferred to Birmingham, Alabama. I have a lot of great memories of being a kid in Birmingham in the mid 70’s. We moved back to Macon when I started the 5th grade at Walter P. Jones in Shurlington. I lived 5 doors down from the school. My memories of growing up in that neighborhood are amazing. There were lots of kids in the neighborhood and lots to do. We had a big patch of woods behind our house where we built forts, had BB gun battles, played hide and seek splashed in the small creek. There was a community swimming pool that most of us were members of so summers were spent riding bikes down to the pool and hanging out all day.
There were plenty of days that we headed through the woods, past the pool and right to Walnut Creek. We had as much fun there as we did at the pool – Swimming, finding a deep hole here or there, jumping off of the rocks. I remember making a raft with some friends out of spare wood and maybe some barrels, waiting for a big rain and then trying to float Walnut Creek – not so successful, but a great adventure. I also remember walking the Creek over to the bridge on Jeffersonville Road and jumping from the bridge into the water.
I grew up playing baseball at the park just past Shurlington Baptist Church on Shurling drive and football at Central City Park. Shurlington Baptist Church was where we went to church. I was in the youth group and my parents were very committed there. The first Pastor I have real memories of is Ron Wallace who was my pastor there for a while. He played football for Florida State – that’s probably why I remember him most. He was the first pastor I knew who was a man and a pastor. I don’t mean that negatively toward anyone I just mean that he was strong and fierce and loved Jesus too.
I started First Presbyterian Day School in the 8th grade and finished High School there. I played football at FPD and one year of college football – loved the game. I had a not so nice reputation on the field. A few may have even said I was a dirty player. I don’t know about that.
My High School days were probably like most peoples. Looking for places to hang out with friends, making places to hang out with friends, and doing many of the things that parents fear their kids might do. The stories I could tell! It is at this point that I remind people that I was not always a Pastor and that Jesus loves the worst of sinners! The things we did and got away with then – good grief.
There was the weekend we rented the Long Building at Central City for a fundraiser. We had Southern Rude Dixie as the band that night – man they were good. And if I remember correctly there was actually a police shut down and a few arrests that night. The fund raiser was for a high school spring break trip to Panama City. It paid for most of the trip. That one is a whole other story.
There were nights where we set up in the middle of the woods – once near the river in Bibb at Party Palace and once down a dirt road in Jones – cranked up a generator and the music started… also shut down by local law enforcement. Sundays were River days. We’d meet up after lunch and float from Party Palace or just above River North at Billy’s Rock and take out at what is now the Water Works Park and when we could, hit the Waffle House at Pierce Ave.
These are the reasons I pray so hard for my kids! Like I said, I wasn’t always a pastor. Its also why most of my friends from High School and College either laughed or just stared in disbelief when they heard I had become a pastor. My life radically changed at 25 when I met the Jesus I had heard about for all of those years growing up.
What did your parents do? My dad worked a few jobs when I was younger but from 5th grade until, he was the parts manager at Paul Walsh Nissan.
What did you do before you started New City Church?
What a trek that was! I worked at Harrisons Body Shop off and on with school and life from 16-22. I went to work at GEICO for almost 6 years. Then 3 years selling farm land and timberland with Georgia Farm Bureau Real Estate. I was 30, married, 2 kids when I went back to school for theological and pastoral training… where I said, “I’ll never be a pastor – a teacher, maybe, but not a pastor.”
During and after school I served as the Lead Pastor of 2 churches and was an Associate Pastor at Mabel White here in Macon.
Tell me what makes New City Different?
I’ll give you a few things that our New City people have shared with me:
* Jesus is the heartbeat of New City. We understand that God’s love, grace, and mercy are best seen in His life, death, and resurrection. We see Him as our redeemer and restorer. So we talk about Him a lot.
* Just last night a new couple to New City shared that they loved that people are much less likely to hide behind a mask at New City. People are real. What you see is what you get, even when that is not so beautiful. I am not good at games or politics so we don’t do a lot of either here.
* New City is FOR our city – we love Macon. We want to be an active part of seeing positive, tangible change in Macon. So we invest our time, talents, and resources to help see that happen. We are or have been a part of seeing music and art grow and thrive in downtown Macon. We have worked with the Mayors Office, Police Department and others to start a downtown neighborhood watch. We rehabbed the Thorpe’s building as the home of The 567 to invest in our city. Our people are encouraged regularly to shop and eat downtown.
* We are Diverse – the most diverse church I have ever served in or attended – especially downtown Macon. We have young and old, rich and poor, black and white, and everything in between. Last summer we merged with Macon Community Baptist Church, an African American congregation. Their lead pastor joined our staff as our second preaching pastor. He and one other elder joined our elder leadership team and members of their praise team have joined our musicians.
And what made you start it?
The short subjective answer is God. I believe this is what God wanted. But he used a lot of circumstances to get me here. I was frustrated with many of my experiences in traditional, institutional church. I found myself working ridiculous hours doing church stuff for church people – I had no friends outside of the church, I served almost no one outside of the church, and I was watching fewer and fewer people attend church – the numbers of unchurched continued to increase and more and more people were disassociating with church and Christianity… while I did church stuff for church people. Don’t get me wrong – there were great people doing great things where I was – I was just trying to do something that I wasn’t made to do.
Downtown seemed like it needed some love. So here we are. What’s really crazy to think about sometimes is that New City has grown in 6 years from 1 location to 3, Downtown Macon, North Macon, and Milledgeville reaching over 600 people a week. Our 4th church plant, Sojourn Church in Warner Robins. is starting to push close to 200 people a week! That’s crazy. This has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. And I would do againtomorrow.
What do you think the most important development downtown has been?
That is a tough one because it is not one thing but so many little things… they have led to the larger things. It would be easiest to say that the Dannenberg project coming about is the most important – but would that have happened without The Warehouse lofts or Broadway Lofts? I said when Cherry Street Cycles opened that if they succeed, we have seen the turning point downtown – they have. Cesar’s work has been huge, the Capitol Theater served as our first home. The old 567 in our small storefront helped stir the music and art scene. Market City – The new Rookery… man, so many parts that have all been necessary to get us here today. I don’t think it is fair to exclude any of them and others as well… I hope that New City’s presence can be added to that list.
What do you enjoy most about being downtown?
I enjoy the life that exists here – the noise of cars and laughter and conversation so easily heard through my office windows, the diversity and the unity that exists in the midst of all of the madness. Its beautiful. And you will never get it in North Macon or in Warner Robins.
What do you enjoy least of all?
The perception that we still fight – I hate it. There is so much negativity aimed at downtown – it drives me crazy. People afraid, rumors of gangs and violence… its stupid, yet people believe it.
If you could have asked Jesus one question. What would it be?
One day I will have that opportunity. Right now I think it would be, how could you love ME that much?