New day at Yadkin United: Interim pastor helping church plan its future
PENCER — Some people feared the end of an 83-year tie to the Methodist church might spell the end for the small congregation that meets near the Yadkin River in Spencer.
But visit Yadkin United Church at 11 a.m. on a Sunday, and you’ll still find light and song, along with a new face at the pulpit.
Weeks after the United Methodist Church ended its denominational relationship with the church, the Rev. Gary Hauze took over as interim pastor what is now known as Yadkin United Church.
Founded in 1930, the church is located next to the site of the former N.C. Finishing Company plant.
The textile company donated the land for the church’s use in perpetuity, so long as a church meets there.
But dwindling membership in recent years, and a lack of funds coming in, led the United Methodist Church to conclude the church’s chances to rebuild were slim.
After a Dec. 30 article in the Salisbury Post about the church’s uncertain future, Hauze said many people had expressed concerns and a willingness to help Yadkin United Church.
He said that he and wife Linda learned about Yadkin Church’s plight “quite by accident” via the Internet, and called lay leaders to offer their services.
After initial meetings, Hauze agreed to serve as interim pastor “at least through June and possibly later, if they and I wish to continue our relationship,” he said.
Sherrell Dennis Hedrick, one of the lay leaders, said Hauze has brought new energy and new ideas to Yadkin United Church.
Hauze earned a bachelor’s degree at Catawba College in the late 1960s and went on to earn a master of divinity degree at Harvard Divinity School in 1973.
For decades, Hauze served as a pastor and administrator in the United Church of Christ, with postings in New England and the Midwest.
Hauze and wife Linda live in Salisbury and are members of First United Church of Christ.
But, Hauze said, “preaching is in my blood.”
When he came to meet with members of Yadkin United Church, Hedrick said, “(Hauze) seemed knowledgeable about the process that we’re going to have to go through. It was like he was God-sent to us.”
The church’s first task has been to reaffirm its non-profit status with the federal government and the state, now that it’s an independent congregation.
With that underway, Hauze has helped guide the church in drafting new by-laws, and has assisted with strategic planning.
“We just feel like he is really interested in the growth of the church for the future,” she said.
Unlike the former United Methodist charge, where one pastor split his time between two churches, Hauze is focusing his energies on Yadkin United Church.
And he is volunteering his time. Hauze said he’s been blessed with a pension and wants to do what he can to help the church get back on its feet.
“For me, it’s really a labor of love,” Hauze said.
After the Feb. 2 service, he, wife Linda, Hedrick and other members gathered around a table in a Sunday school room for coffee and muffins.
At first, Hauze said, smiling, “I volunteered to do one Sunday a month.”
But the more he prayed about it, the more he felt called to give more time.
For those Sundays when he doesn’t preach, Hauze said he can call on many retired clergy in the area who are still able and willing to take the pulpit.
Another reason the Hauzes feel drawn to the community is that his wife’s grandmother lived in the mill village, “and her father and her uncle Johnny were born here,”
Linda’s father, Hugh D. Young, Jr., attended youth meetings at the church.
And Linda’s grandmother lived in a home not far from where Hedrick grew up.
“The Yadkin community was very close-knit, but the children and grandchildren went off and did their own things,” Hedrick said.
During their years as students at Catawba, Linda said, they used to come visit her grandmother’s home in Spencer, “and she would cook for us.”
Three years ago, Linda took a photo of Yadkin Church for her father – a photo that now graces the church’s new business cards.
Both Gary and Linda said their shared memories of the mill village – of Boy Scout campouts, of textile mill life – are a strong connection to Yadkin Church and the community.
“The folk at Yadkin United Church have welcomed Linda and me into their faith community,” Hauze said. “It seems like we are among old friends and relatives.”
“It really feels like an important place to us,” Linda Hauze said.
Hedrick and Hauze both said people have offered to assist Yadkin Church during this time of rebuilding.
They’ve found a lawyer to do pro bono work for the church during its reorganization.
One local business offered a discounted price on business cards after hearing about the church’s situation, he said.
And, Hauze said, a local professional painter has volunteered to paint the wood trim around the church’s stained-glass windows, if the church supplies the materials.
“I have even been invited to participate in an ecumenical clergy group in Spencer by a pastoral acquaintance, the Rev. Richard Gross, pastor of Oakdale Baptist Church,” Hauze said.
That said, Hauze is only serving as Yadkin United Church’s supply pastor on a part-time basis.
Although they don’t have to pay a pastor’s salary at present, or to hire a pianist – he plays the piano – there will come a time when the church needs to choose another pastor.
The biggest question that remains, Hauze said, is what Yadkin United Church’s future will look like.
At present, Hauze said, the church will continue serving Spencer and surrounding communities.
“Ultimately,” he said, “the only way they will become a thriving congregation and community in Yadkin is if remediation were done on the site of the old N.C. Finishing plant and some new homes were built.”
Also, Hauze said, if plans to construct a Civil War battlefield memorial park along the banks of the Yadkin River, or if other recreational opportunities expand, “the church would be in the midst of things.”
With all that in mind, Hauze said, “they can certainly survive as long as they live and if a few people join them.”
Church members said there have been visitors at Yadkin United Church every Sunday since the congregation became independent.
And they’re sending letters out to members on the church roll, letting them know about the things that are happening there.
The key, Hauze said, will be telling the church’s story in the community.
“Evangelism is a necessity for Christians, for like the first disciples, we are to invite people to ‘Come and see’ Jesus,” Hauze said, recalling the Gospel story of how the apostle Andrew invited his brother, Simon Peter, to follow Christ.
“Invitational evangelism is what church members did and must do for membership growth, as well as spiritual growth, to occur.”
Hauze said he’s glad to use his knowledge of how to grow a church, “but my fellow ministers, which is what parishioners in every church are, have to be willing to try things.”
“This is all about them, the Yadkin United Church, and not about me,” Hauze said. “I am merely a fellow servant in the vineyard of the Lord.”
But, with strong leadership and a positive spirit, the members of Yadkin United Church are ready to keep their congregation going, and growing – confident that good things are on the horizon.
Contact Hugh Fisher via 704-797-4244.