In one of three welcome videos he filmed for the congregation of Matthews United Methodist Church, the Rev. Chuck Wilson holds up a pair of wingtips.
“These are a pair of Ken Lyon’s shoes,” Wilson said in the video. “And guess what? Let me just state the obvious. They don’t fit.”
On July 10, Wilson preached his first sermon as lead pastor of Matthews United Methodist Church. He replaced Lyon, who recently retired after serving in the position for 21 years and plans to move to High Point to be closer to his wife’s family.
This will not be Wilson’s first tenure at the church. He was appointed an associate pastor of the church in 1987, where he served until 1992 before taking an administrative position with the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
He said it’s unusual for the conference, which regularly appoints pastors to different churches, to send a pastor to a church he or she has served before.
“It’s kind of a crazy thing, but I’m really going full circle in my ministry life in North Carolina,” Wilson said. “I began my ministry life in Matthews, and I’ll probably conclude my ministry life in Matthews.”
Even though he left the church more than two decades ago, he’s found he still knows a lot of people there.
Longtime members Stuart and Shelby Stout were in the same Sunday School class with the Wilsons, but in recent years they’d mainly kept in touch over Facebook. Shelby called Stuart as soon as she got wind that Wilson could be Lyon’s replacement.
“We’re ecstatic that he’s back,” Shelby Stout said.
More than a pastor
When Lyon was appointed to Matthews United Methodist, the church was reeling from former pastor Lane Hurley’s unexpected departure.
“(Lyon) walked into a situation that was going to be difficult,” said Stuart Stout. “All I remember about Ken at first was that he endeared himself not only to the people at the church who had been there a long time, but also to the children.”
The church also was moving from a small building in downtown Matthews to its new campus near the intersection of Trade Street and Fullwood.
Hurley, known for his charismatic personality, had drawn hundreds of new members during his decade of leadership at the church, making it a megachurch in the growing Charlotte suburb.
“What I knew was that it was a great honor to go there,” Lyon said. “It was a great church that had gone through a very difficult time. I went knowing that God was not finished with that faith community and had great things in store, and together we would figure it out.”
The Stouts remember a large circle of children gathering around Lyon on Sundays, when he would sit on the church’s stage to deliver a children’s message. Their preschool-age daughter Hope loved Lyon and regularly jockeyed for a position next to him on stage.
The families became close, and nine years later, when Hope was 12, Lyon was the first person Shelby Stout called when Hope was sent to a hospital oncology floor for tests. Stuart was in West Virginia on a mission trip, where cell phone coverage was spotty.
Lyon was with Stuart when a doctor shared results from Hope’s biopsy, which showed she had cancer. Hope died six months later.
“Ken was so strong for our family during those 191 days,” Stuart Stout said. “He was with us in the months after, and as the months turned into years. He’s much more than just a pastor.”
Lyon, who is 66, said he has sensed that it was time for the church to have new leadership.
“We have had just a magnificent time growing together,” he said. “I have loved the opportunity to be in partnership with the good folks at Matthews.”
Building personal relationships
Wilson, who is 60, had served at Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church near Lake Junaluska for almost a decade. He thought he would finish his ministry career there.
“My dreams were all set there up in the mountains,” Wilson said. “Karen, my wife, and I had planned that was where we would continue to serve in ministry until our retirement time.”
They moved to Matthews in June, where Wilson said he sees his role now as “embracing, listening, learning, and in the midst of that will come, opportunities to lead.” He said the church has a strong focus on the community and strong ministries across generations.
When Tim and Gwen Stokes visited Matthews United Methodist for the first time, Wilson, then the associate pastor, met them at the church door and introduced himself. The next Sunday, the Stokes were impressed that Wilson remembered their names.
“Chuck Wilson exhibits an energy and enthusiasm for Christ that is contagious,” Tim Stokes said. “He is still all about personal relationships and sharing the love of God to one person at a time, a message for the entire world.”
Wilson preached at three services on his first Sunday at Matthews United Methodist and gave a greeting at two more. He sees his role as helping the church love God, love people and be a presence in the community.
“I believe the church is not just supposed to be in the community, but a place that’s for the community,” he said. “I want this church to be that in the community.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Family: Wife, Karen; four adult children.
Seminary education: Perkins School of Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, doctor of ministry from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.
Ordination: Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Other N.C. churches served: Long’s Chapel United Methodist in Waynesville, University City UMC in Charlotte, Wesley Memorial UMC in High Point.
Notable work at Long’s Chapel: Launched Haywood Pathways Center, which houses a homeless shelter and a site for a ministry to the poor and marginalized, and developed a new community of faith as an extension of Long’s Chapel.