Born and raised in Liverpool, England, Paul Wood, found himself at a crossroads when working as a police officer at the young age of 28, he was seriously injured on the job.
“When I left Liverpool when I was 16, there’s no way I was ever going to travel, except to go on holiday [vacation]. My plan was to be a policeman, do my 25 years, retire, have a family, get a security job somewhere, and that was going to be life,” he said.
Unable to continue working in law enforcement, Paul instead chose to continue his education by studying law and sociology at University. Little did he know at the time, obtaining his college degree sent him down a fork in the road that would lead to traveling the globe, experiencing different cultures in Europe, Africa and Asia. Those experiences had a profound effect on helping him become the man he is today, the new pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church in La Porte City.
Among his many travels, Pastor Paul previously worked in the United States prior to coming to Iowa.
“Over the years, I came to work in the States on different projects as a contracts lawyer. I worked in New Jersey, Virginia, Florida and Texas,” he said.
Working for the United Nations in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003, the future minister experienced a life-changing moment when the building in which he was working was attacked by a suicide bomber. The blast killed 22 people and wounded another 100. Surviving an event that took the lives of some of his friends and coworkers, it was then that Paul realized God had a purpose for him.
“I had no idea what it was at that moment in time. I had no idea that I was going to end up in ministry in Iowa.”
His path to the Hawkeye state began in 2005, called to work on a power station project in Council Bluffs. Only scheduled to be there for nine months, fate intervened during his search for an apartment.
“Then I met my wife to be. She was my landlady, actually,” he revealed.
Following the project’s completion, Paul and his wife, Dorothea, made the move to Illinois for a brief time, as he worked on an 18-month project for a company based in Chicago. They returned to Iowa and settled in the Cedar Rapids area for the next four years while Paul worked on a power station project in Palo. It was at that time that he began giving serious thought about his role in the Methodist Church.
“In that time I’d always had God calling me to be somewhat involved in ministry through all the years. So when I came to Iowa, got married and settled down, I went to the Methodist Church in Center Point. While I was there, I got to help with the services,” he recalled.
Encouraged by his pastor to consider the ministry, Paul answered the call and spent two years preparing to lead a congregation, all while still working full time in Palo. In 2013, he retired from the power station to devote 100% of his efforts to the church. His first full time assignment came in Wapsie Valley, serving as pastor at two churches in the area. After seven years, he then accepted the assignment that began last month at St. Paul United Methodist Church.
After a career in law enforcement and working as a lawyer, the appeal of the ministry for Pastor Paul can be found in the opportunities he has to listen in non-judgmental ways, spending time with the residents in care centers and working with children during their Sunday School lessons.
“I just enjoy the fact that God has given me a gift which I can to try and use to be there when people are at a time of crisis- just to be there when people need to talk about anything at all,” he explained.
An experienced grief counselor, Pastor Paul understands the pain of loss comes in many forms.
“Not just [the loss of] loved ones, but some people who have been divorced or lost their jobs. That’s a bigger grief than some people realize.”
The many experiences he’s gained living around the world, coupled with his passion for learning has given him a unique understanding and appreciation for cultural differences and philosophies. With that comes the desire to bring understanding of the outside world, what he calls the “human side” of the world, into his teachings in the church.
“Whatever their color, their race, their creed or orientation, we’re all God’s children,” he said.
Pastor Paul uses a slide show of images taken over the years along his multi-cultural journey through life to help illustrate this belief. Reflecting on how scripture passages have impacted his life, he then tries to help his congregation make the transition to what God’s words are trying to say to humanity today. He does so while acknowledging the important contributions his wife makes to those efforts.
“If it was not for Dorothea, I could not do this. She’s my rock. And she gives me constructive criticism on my sermons,” he added with a smile.
In his spare time, Pastor Paul enjoys a number of sports. In his younger days, he was a soccer (football) referee. Today, he still works as a rugby referee, a sport that is rapidly growing in the state of Iowa. He also shares an appreciation of baseball and American football, being a fan of the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs. And wordsmiths beware- this author and Toastmaster has a particular passion for the board game Scrabble.
As this immigrant and now proud American begins his tenure in La Porte City, Pastor Paul has an important mission, one he is quick to note should be spelled with a lowercase “m.”
“Yes, we can be mission oriented, do the food bank, give clothes here and go [on mission trips] there,” he said.
“But unless we face the social issues of today, we can become complacent,” he added.
“We have to love one another.”
Author of The Traveling Heart, Paul Wood has been writing poetry since he was 12 years old. Working for the United Nations in Baghdad at the time, he composed this poem after surviving the horrific bombing of the Canal Hotel on August 19, 2003, where the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq was located.
With serpentine glide
Death does invade and abide
In the instant of passing
From human to void
Does my heart cry
By what mighty edict
Is our time evicted?
From Earth to Space
What sin is mine
That I live and they die?
Those precious moments
Of laughter and sunshine
That fateful day will survive
Fariba, Behnam, Sergio, Malak,
Each my friend, each my past.
God against God is the lie
Evil against Good is the view
The heat of death forever sears
My heart, my mind, my soul
The breathless vacuum of insanity.
The tortured breath
The clouded eye
Blood inmeasureable yet so dark
Falls from twisted body
To drown my tears
The chaos of noise
Is shunned by the silence
As prayers rise but fall as ash
Broken bodies illumine the gloom
Lungs burnt by acrid smells
Singed flesh, scorched dreams
Fill the void that is humanity
Bile of guilt and shame
Rise within me seeking escape
God let me die now.
Release me from this mortal hell
Punish me quick for my damned soul
Gladly I would die to save
Those whose live’s are purer
Yet punished I am eternally
Allah is merciful the “soldier” cries
In death as he joins the Martyrs past.
His Mother weeps for joy and loss
His glory will be her reward
For sacrificing her life
Where is my God now?
To save my friends from pain
To give sense to senselessness
To give courage to those in death
To give life eternal.
In my arms Fariba lies
Yet they cannot save or protect her
Shall I die too in this barren land?
My words to soothe are useless
They cannot save you from passing.
In the Stygian gloom
We rest together waiting
Me for hope you for Allah
I will not savour hope
Yet you will have eternal peace.
For this land I have “fought”
For this land you have died
Your land is my land
Your hopes, my continued desire
In time inmemorium.