Ready to grow: H.L. Talbert is new pastor of Shiloh Methodist
By Susan Shinn
GRANITE QUARRY ó Hey, you! Your shoes don’t match!
Ask The Rev. H.L. Talbert what he means and he’ll tell you a story.
H.L. ó as he prefers to be called ó wants his new congregation, Shiloh Methodist, to be a people whose shoes don’t match spiritually.
He wants them to be like the father of the prodigal son ó who’s so happy to see his boy that he rushes out with the first two shoes he can find.
“We’re a people eager to love, eager to forgive and eager to be in an ongoing relationship with God and our neighbor,” says H.L., 57.
He might’ve worn out more than a few pairs of running shoes, running from God’s call. When he was 40, he says, he ran out of places to hide.
One night, he asked his pastor, “Is there any financial assistance for someone who wants to enter ministry late in life?”
“Who do you know?” the pastor’s wife asked.
“Yeah, who do you know?” asked Meryl, his own wife.
H.L. entered a program that allowed him to pastor a church in Indian Trail while attending classes at Erskine Theological Seminary, three hours away.
To say he took a salary cut from a career in writing software is putting it mildly.
“I thought we were gonna starve,” says H.L., who that Christmas found an envelope with five $100 bills inside taped to his garage door.
He took classes two days a week, and pastored his church the rest of the time.
“It was fun,” H.L. says. “It was absolutely glorious.”
H.L. likens himself to the Energizer Bunny, and it’s easy to see why.
It’s hard not to get excited as he shares his excitement about his new congregation.
His first Sunday was July 5. He hasn’t even had time to assemble his “I love me” wall in his office. He only sits behind the desk when he’s working. Otherwise, he talks with visitors at a wooden table with four chairs.
Bill Braswell, a longtime member, introduced H.L. his first Sunday.
“God called him to the ministry,” Bill says. “When he mentions God, his eyes light up and you can see the excitement on his face.
“I’m excited about this fella, I really am.”
H.L. has asked God, “What’s your plan for this church?”
Being a former businessman, he’s fond of using acronyms.
One of them is IGT.
That stands for the church’s Intentional Growth Team.
From two sources, H.L. heard, “Shiloh is poised for growth.”
That was the answer he was seeking from God.
“This church is going to turn into a magnet,” H.L. says. “We are looking at every ministry.”
H.L. has spent this first month meeting with each committee.
Shiloh is starting a small-group ministry that will meet in homes.
The groups can form around any topic ó quilting, Bible study, metal detecting, says H.L., throwing out examples.
The groups are an informal way to learn more about a church.
“It works,” H.L. says firmly. “Every church that is growing today has small group ministry. It is a vital element to a healthy church.”
Along with revamping the church’s youth group, H.L. wants to start shepherding groups, in which leaders will contact every person in the congregation once a month, passing on major concerns to the pastor.
“As much as we’re going to grow,” he says, “I’m going to be spread thin. That’s why shepherding teams are important.”
Another acronym H.L. likes to use is EGP. That stands for Extra Grace People.
“Those are people who need to be reached out to and reminded of God’s grace,” H.L. says.
They could be struggling with illness, a job loss or other problems, he explains.
You’re never permanently an EGP.
“But at that particular point, they need a little extra grace,” he says.
He wants to reach out to people who have drifted away from the church. Citing another statistic, H.L. says that 40 percent of the people in any community have not had a “significant church experience.”
That of course includes the community of Granite Quarry, he points out. “It’s mind-boggling, but it’s also a great, exciting time to be in ministry.”
If people ever need a church, H.L. says, now is the time.
Although Shiloh only has one weekly service, at 11 a.m. Sundays, H.L. is considering the addition of a Saturday night alternative service.
He likes the idea of his bishop’s suggestion that Sunday morning is no longer a protected time ó so why not give parishioners another time for services?
He scoffs when members apologize for missing Sunday services.
He tells them, “That’s called life.”
“I love my people where they are,” he says. “You need time away. You need rest.”
What does this Energizer Bunny do to recharge?
“I have more hobbies than I have time for,” says H.L., rattling off a list that includes cooking, gardening, model railroading, woodworking, writing, sailing and RVing.Meryl has worked for Belk Store Services in Charlotte for 36 years. Their 37th anniversary is Aug. 26.
They’re both off on Fridays, so they spend a lot of time together.
No empty-nest syndrome here.
Their son, Adam, 25, is a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton in California.
The Talberts were told they couldn’t have children, and were nearly ready to adopt when they found out they were going to have a baby. H.L. later told his wife he wanted to adopt a daughter, but she told him they shouldn’t be greedy.
“I finally got my daughter,” he says, his eyes getting a bit shiny.
“I presided at my son’s wedding last year. My daughter-in-law is the apple of my eye.
“Sometimes God just has you wait on things, you know?”
Perhaps surprisingly, this former businessman hasn’t set any specific goals for increased attendance, although Shiloh is setting attendance records for July, he says.
“If you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, attendance will be a by-product,” H.L. says. “If we’re a church that will nurture God’s lambs, God will bring people to this church.”