Retro Charlotte

1971: Lake Norman worship on the Outrigger “War Canoe”

“Bobby Cavin, left, leads songs aboard pontoon boat ... Mrs. Keith Hutcherson plays the portable organ.” July, 1971
“Bobby Cavin, left, leads songs aboard pontoon boat ... Mrs. Keith Hutcherson plays the portable organ.” July, 1971 The Charlotte Observer

A Duke Divinity School student brought the gospel to Lake Norman from 1969 to 1971. Two sermons on summer Sundays, one at Ye Olde Campground (off Hwy 73 West?) and the other aboard the “Polynesian war canoe” at Outrigger Harbor. Outrigger Harbor leased the property from Crescent Resources until the mid-’90s when Crescent decided not to renew their lease. Today, the Peninsula Yacht Club and expensive homes sit on land once filled with trailers and tents. Read on to learn more about the Moravian preacher who gave nondenominational sermons to Lake Norman visitors 46 years ago.

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Student Goes to Parishes to Preach

By Sam R. Covington, Observer Staff Writer

July 26, 1971

The young preacher was picking up trash in the “church” when his congregation began straggling in, carrying their “pews” with them.

The preacher, Keith Hutcherson, a Duke Divinity School student on summer intern work, has one church in a Lake Norman campsite pavilion, another on a pontoon boat at a marina.

His parishioners are campers, and at the first service Sunday, at Ye Olde Campground, nearly all the campers came to church carrying folding aluminum-framed chairs for there are no permanent seats in the open-sided shelter.

The chairs’ plastic webbing made a colorful array matched by the casual vacation clothing of the church-goers.

Nearby, the waters of Lake Norman, gray and sullen under overcast skies, lapped fitfully at the beach. A powerboat, tiny in the distance, growled its way toward deep water.

Hutcherson’s second service was at Outrigger Harbor, another campsite and marina a few miles away. He followed the same order of worship at both, preached the same sermon.

The locale differs in that the Outrigger church is held aboard the camp’s long, low cruise boat, a party craft decorated in pseudo-Polynesian.

The services attracted between 80 and 100 persons at the campground, where Hutcherson said people tend to return each weekend, and about 50 persons at the Outrigger where faces change more often.

The July Fourth weekend seemed to have been the peak so far this summer, Hutcherson said, with about 225 persons at both services.

The services are short, about 30 minutes, and it may be that Hutcherson’s pretty young wife, Sheila, worked harder than the preacher.

At the campground, Mrs. Hutcherson played for the hymn-singing on a weather-beaten upright piano. On the boat, she used a portable pump-organ, pedaling to make the music come.

In his sermon, Hutcherson told the vacationers that rest from the grind of a competitive world is necessary for all men.

“One of the favorite resting places of Jesus was a lake, much like the one you see before you,” Hutcherson said.

It is easier to develop faith in God when surrounded by nature, the young student said, urging his listeners to use their leisure time to think deeply on eternal matters.

Worship itself is recreation when looked at as “re-creation,” the renewing of our spirits, attitudes and innermost selves.

The “re-created” believer needs to carry back to the work-a-day world the message that God loves all men, he continued.

Hutcherson, 26 and a native of Winston-Salem, is an interesting example of the lakeside ministry’s ecumenical approach.

The services he conducts are a project of United Methodists, but Hutcherson is a Moravian. One summer, he has learned, the student-minister was a Baptist.

His sermon was carefully free of denominational position, nothing that the “faith of all believers has equal standing.”

A former sportswriter for the Winston-Salem Journal, Hutcherson began to examine his career choice while serving in the Army in Vietnam. Being drafter was, as he described it, the first time he was pulled out of a middle-class environment and began to realize “the world was in lots worse shape than I realized.”

It was seeing “guys who just didn’t know where in life they were going,” that caused him to consider the ministry, Hutcherson said.