City News

With community's help, church looks to next 50

It was 1962, Pat and Bill McKenzie were a young couple, practically newlyweds, and new to Charlotte.

Looking for a place to worship with other young couples in east Charlotte, they decided to accept an invitation to visit a church on Amity Place about a block away from Independence Boulevard.

Having to drive on Independence Boulevard, a four-lane road back then, was daunting to Pat, who was from a small town in Eastern North Carolina.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my, driving on this big highway is scary,'” Pat said.

The church they visited was called Cokesbury United Methodist Church. The McKenzies joined the congregation and immediately became active, Bill with the Boy Scout Troop and Pat with the choir, which she directed for decades.

Cokesbury, formed in 1958, will celebrate its 50th anniversary this week by inviting former members to participate in several events, including a special dinner next Sunday.

In 1972, the church moved to its current location on Idlewild Road. By then, the small, yet active congregation had blossomed.

Kindergarten programs were started at the church to help teach the members' young children. Boy Scout troops also became part of the church to help mold the boys, who were fast becoming young men.

Church members also began reaching out to the community. When Hurricane Floyd tore through Eastern North Carolina in 1999, dozens of church members spent a week in the area repairing homes and comforting the victims.

They now routinely take in homeless families, support orphanages in Africa, and have helped build at least four Habitat for Humanity homes.

Cokesbury once consisted of a small group of families. It once was an all-white church. But soon that changed, too.

Just as their eastside community became more diverse so, too, did Cokesbury.

In fact, some church members helped the congregation become more racially diverse by canvassing the neighborhood and inviting African Americans and Latinos who'd recently moved to the area.

Now, Cokesbury's congregation includes African immigrants and African Americans. Its current pastor, John Moore, is black.

The church also allows Latino and Brazilian congregations to use its sanctuary to hold their own worship service.

“We felt that one of our responsibilities as a community church was to open our doors to community activities and people,” Moore said.

Many members say strong families are the reason Cokesbury has thrived during its 50-year existence. However, most of the congregation is older.

Their children, who grew up in Cokesbury, live and worship elsewhere. Now, the pastor says, the church must rely more upon the community of families in the neighborhood to help it thrive another 50 years.