Presbyterian Church drawn into community service during Wicks’s term
By Barry Merrill
Presbyterians gather for worship at Mount Olive Presbyterian at 8:45 and 11 a.m. Sundays. Particularly since Steven Wicks came to pastor the church 15 years ago, the 12 o’clock bell is when those Presbyterians scatter in community service.
“I had no idea I would be here that long,” said the retiring pastor from his office last week. While he reflected on his years in Mount Olive, he senses a calling not so much to retirement as to the next chapter in his life. This Sunday is his last in the pulpit at MOPC.
“Everything has a season. I hear God telling me, ‘your season at Mount Olive Presbyterian Church is complete.’”
It has been a bountiful season at the church, as Mount Olive Presbyterian and Pastor Steven have grown in their relationship with God and moved into a number of mission areas. Much of that growth was encouraged and supported by him, but he credits others.
“Fourteen years ago Terri McKay came to me saying she felt led to begin a pre-school program at the church. I told her, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Of course it was a lot of hard work and some significant financial costs to prepare a building to house the pre-school, but Pastor Steven had a sense that this was part of God’s plan for MOPC.
Years before while he and his wife, Alice, were members of a Presbyterian church in Roanoke, VA., then layperson Steven had served on the board for that church’s pre-school program, so he was already familiar with many of the issues.
Footprints Pre-School continues in its service to the community.
Youth ministry was a priority at the church before he came, and an important part of his selection by the church. LOGOS, the youth program, had been going for four years, and Pastor Steven has helped fan that flame, encouraging the youth in his time here.
A week ago, members of the church and the community came to a Sunday afternoon and evening retirement service for Pastor Steven, and fittingly the youth of the church were a major part of that service. They sang, danced, read Scripture, and were in worship of God. They, unscripted, helped him pronounce the benediction at the close of the service.
While many spoke during the service about Pastor Steven’s years of service in the community, one of the more powerful testimonies of several by other pastors was Rev. Lula Newkirk of Helping Hands Mission. She spoke of Pastor Steven’s encouragement to her as he asked her to co-chair the community’s seven Habitat for Humanity homes they built. He also asked her to serve as president of the Mount Olive Ministerial Association, where he had served two terms.
Growing up in Aberdeen, North Carolina, Steven Wicks grew up in a racially divided community, and had lived through some of the successful initiatives to bring the African-American and caucasian communities together. While he wouldn’t call it a crusade, he has worked to encourage that healing here. The church and Steven have been a part of putting together and supporting the community Easter Sunrise services, as well as community Thanksgiving services. He believed hosting a Martin Luther King service at MOPC was “the right thing to do.”
In reflection, the community vegetable garden and the Backpack Buddies programs have been two of the ways in which the church started and continues to respond to community needs. “I think North Carolina is ranked third highest in the country in food shortage to children.”
Fellowship of Christian Athletes developed locally with church members leading and the church’s help and support. A monthly breakfast for the Mount Olive Middle School staff has been supported. The church partnered with NC State’s Poultry Club to send chickens as a sustainable resource to hungry people in foreign countries, part of Heifer International.
Steven’s wife of 43 years, Alice, retired as a public school arts teacher. Steven and Alice have recently sensed a calling to be present in the lives of their grandchildren. He and Alice will be moving to Virginia Beach to be near his eldest son’s two children. His daughter, who lives in Germany, blessed Steven and Alice with her second child just over a week ago, and they can’t wait to visit the newborn.
The 3 1/2 hour separation will help both the church and Steven, as he wants to be supportive of the new pastor God calls to MOPC. “There’s a change of pastor to parish members, but you never stop being friends.”
Steven won’t stop serving where God leads, though he won’t be serving full-time in a church. He fully expects to be a part of Habitat for Humanity in the Tidewater area, and is sensing a call to volunteer in hospitals in that area, but not necessarily as a chaplain.
For the last 15 years Mount Olive has been blessed as Pastor Steven has been serving right where God wanted him, where Steven has tried to be in all his life, and in doing God’s will.