It only took Darryl Peebles a few decades to find a name that could cover the many roles he’s held over a long and wide-ranging career.
“You’ve heard of a jack-of-all-trades, a master-of-none?” he asks. “A polymath is a jack-of-all trades and a master-of-all.”
The term, introduced to Peebles by a friend a few years back, spans the writing, designing, entertaining, filmmaking, firefighting, fundraising, founding, and preaching that he’s devoted himself to over the decades.
Still, it’s the work in the church — namely, with his congregation at Historic Providence Christian Church in Graham, considered to be the county’s oldest church — to which he’s given the majority of his time, time that he’ll be putting somewhere new when he retires at the end of this month after 41 years.
“I just felt like it was time,” he said in a recent interview with The Alamance News, explaining that the halt of in-person church services due to the pandemic marked the right opportunity to “ease out.”
“The part that I would miss about being a pastor is, it’s a treasure, a gift from God, an honorable privilege to be able to be let into people’s lives day in and day out when no one else is invited in.”
– Retiring pastor darryl peebles
Born in 1949 near the Chattahoochee River in Langdale, Alabama, Peebles was active in his church since childhood, but while the “ladies in the church” had intentions for the occasional, youth Sunday pastor to turn preaching into a career, his sights were set elsewhere.
“I really didn’t feel like that’s what God wanted me to do,” he recalled. “I felt like that’s what the ladies wanted me to do.”
Instead, he worked a series of small jobs and pursued a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Auburn University, where he also started a still-standing and top-ranked fraternity; then rose to the rank of art director; and settled into his first home.
“All along I felt like, ‘Well, if this doesn’t work out, I can do that,’” he explained. “I had enough tools in my tool chest to make sure I could take care of me, take care of my family.
“It was only when I had made it as an art director that I realized I could listen to God, and He said, ‘I’ll take care of you.’”
As his career progressed, he knew that he had “gifts and talents” that were going unused due to his workload in the design industry. His work in his local church was also being limited by the long hours.
“One day I sort of said, ‘God?’ And God said, ‘What, Darryl?’
“I said, ‘Well, look. If I were to become a pastor, could I use more of my gifts and talents?’
“And the voice came through the clouds and said, ‘Duh!’” he told the newspaper, laughing. “I knew He had a sense of humor. I didn’t know He was a bit sarcastic, though.”
From then on, he decided to serve as a pastor until God sent him another way.
“That was almost 50 years ago now,” he recalls.
In the meantime, the pastor put his abilities to use in his church, locally, and even internationally.
His overseas adventures introduced him to an Australian Daryl Peebles, with whom he found so many similarities that the duo would appear to be long-lost twins. The Graham-based Peebles also embarked on a 2017 world tour of four continents, where he gave over 156 presentations honoring organizations and people who had dedicated themselves to serving their communities.
Closer to home, he started the county’s CROP Hunger Walk, secured the grant that funded Allied Churches of Alamance County’s inception in the 1980’s, and led a solar energy project.
His tenure at the church has had its own highlight reel of weddings, baby dedications, and other services. Still, above it all he places the celebration that comes at the end of a life as the most rewarding, whether for a member of his church or for a complete stranger.
“That’s the most special time,” he said. “You’re responsible to capture that life, not just as an 80-year-old with cancer, but to take enough time to go back to that family and interview them.
“The only reason you know these people is the funeral home said they didn’t have a preacher. You’ve never met them before in your entire life, and you go there, you capture that life, you share that life, then you give advice to those who are left behind — what to do, what to expect.”
The satisfaction, he said, comes when family and friends feel that their relative has been truly understood and honored.
“I put that at the top,” he said. “If I can do that, I’ve done my job. Out of all the magic shows, and craziness, and humor, that’s probably the most sacred time.”
Even after his retirement next week, Peebles said he’ll continue to do funerals and weddings, as well as substitute as a preacher for other churches. He and wife Rhonda, a retired educator, are also in the process of moving into a new home in Whitsett, though Peebles will still commute to Graham to his studio on North Main Street and for his fire department duties.
“The part that I would miss about being a pastor is, it’s a treasure, a gift from God, an honorable privilege to be able to be let into people’s lives day in and day out when no one else is invited in,” he said.
“That’s the part you miss. That group of people, they’ve been my family. When you’re there that long as a pastor, they become your family.”