Executive Pastor/Minister of Music and Worship
My passion is teaching people to understand God’s will and His ways. Life begins to make sense when we see the world through God’s eyes – through His purposes and plans. We worship our God, Who has sacrificed much to bring us into His worshiping realm. We serve our God, Who opens the ends of the earth for us to witness and celebrate His love. I have served the congregation of MEUMC under many titles since May 1988.
In preparation for ministry I attended Huntingdon College, Asbury Theological Seminary, and the Institute for Worship Studies. I hold a Master’s in Church Music (choral), a minor in Christian Education, and a Doctorate in Worship Studies.
I am married to Lisa who teaches first grade. We have two grown musician children: Hannah, a music therapist, and Caleb, who serves in the U.S. Marine Band. I enjoy laughing with my silly wife, studying the Bible, traveling, playing string instruments, and riding my motorcycle. We share a house with Major and Maggie. (If you have cats, you understand!)
Lay Leadership Development Coordinator
Hi, my full name is Daniela Peele but my friends call me Dani; please feel free to do the same. My favorite things are my Lord and Savior, my husband, Brian, our two children and our Boston Terrier. I enjoy reading and spending time with friends.
All of our lives have twists and turns and mine is no different. My family moved to the Fort Walton Beach area in 2012, and we found ourselves looking for a church. God nudged us to become a part of Mary Esther UMC and then I started to feel Him nudge me to full-time ministry. I started to research what that meant for me, my life and my family. Now, I am working on my Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary while following the required steps within The United Methodist Church to become ordained. As I started this process, an opportunity to serve Mary Esther UMC arose, and I was excited to work full-time in the local church while learning and growing into my call to serve in an ordained capacity.
As a wife, mom, full-time employee, and student, I struggle with time and energy to get everything done. I work daily to improve being intentional in my actions and placing God at the center of all I do. There are always more tasks we can do, but at what cost. God is my focus and light, it is through spending time with Him and focusing my family and life around Him that I will be successful in attaining my goals.
Student Ministries Director
My name is Caleb Bennett, I am the Student Ministries Director. My family was brought to Mary Esther United Methodist Church in 1998 as a birthday present to my mother. I have grown up in the children and youth programs of the church where I learned the basic foundations of what I now call my faith.
I have a B.A. in Civil Engineering from Florida State University, but felt the call that God has something more planned for me. I was still involved with the youth, but this time in Jr. counselor role and found that this is where I felt God calling me to be.
During the first part of 2015 it became abundantly clear that God desired more from me than a Jr. counselor role. I took on the role of Student Ministries Director and have not looked back. I love working with the youth and enjoy just being part of their lives. I am a kid at heart which tends to relate very well.
My name is Deanna Yahney and I am the Director of Little Angels Preschool. I grew up in Philadelphia, PA, and have lived in Fort Walton Beach for the past six years with my husband and son. I enjoy spending time with my family, reading and visiting amusement parks.
I graduated from Holy Family University with a B.A. in Computer Management Information Systems. After graduation, I worked as the Admissions Manager for a seaside amusement park on the Jersey Shore for 13 years until I moved to Florida in 2009. I have always loved children and began working in the childcare field shortly after my son was born. Since 2010, I have worked as a two year old teacher, school-age teacher and an Assistant Director, before finally settling into the Preschool’s Director role here at Mary Esther UMC. I have completed my DCF 45 hours of mandated training along with my Staff and Director Credentials. I also hold a First Aid and CPR certificate.
I feel that working with children is one of the greatest blessings from God. Being the Preschool Director provides me with a wonderful outlet to love, teach, and grow with God’s children and their families.
Director of Outreach Ministries
My name is Rich Yahney and I am the Director of Outreach Ministries here at Mary Esther UMC. In this capacity I serve as Lead Facilitator for Fresh Hope for Mental Health, support seasonal ministries, and work to connect the church with different community support organizations throughout Okaloosa and surrounding counties. I am tri-lingual, speaking English, Italian and Spanish and in a pinch can speak broken French.
I have a Culinary Arts degree from Johnson & Wales University and attended Florida State University, majoring in Business and minoring in Spanish. I have 25-plus years experience in the hospitality industry and feel that the Lord has called me into full-time ministry to utilize my experience, talent and gifts in the local church. In feeling God’s call, I have begun the process of becoming a Certified Local Pastor within The United Methodist Church.
I have lived on the Gulf Coast for six and a half years, where my family and I have been blessed with the most wonderful people. I love to cook, read, go to amusement parks and museums, build Legos, watch auto racing, and spend quality time with my beautiful wife and son.
My passion has always been to serve the less fortunate and share the healing power of God with those who are struggling. I feel extremely blessed to have the opportunity to “Serve God by Serving Others” through Mary Esther UMC.