Reformed Quarterly Volume 10, Issue 1
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 25 miles north of Charlotte, Coddle Creek is a sleepy little hamlet where people are friendly and life is gentle — the type of place which beckons us when the irksome aggravations of modern life threaten to overwhelm us. Right in the heart of North Carolina dairy country, its inhabitants have traditionally been farmers and its rolling meadows dotted with thousands of grazing cows.
Tradition is spelled with a capital “T” in Coddle Creek, and none of its citizens know that better than the members of Coddle Creek Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Considering the church is almost 240 years old –the oldest in the ARP — that’s understandable. Organized in 1753, a community worshipped here almost a quarter of a century before anyone ever raised a musket in the Revolutionary War. Today, ten generations later, Coddle Creek saints worship in a picturesque little sanctuary built in 1884 — two previous structures burned — and in Sunday School additions for which several current members hewed the timber and helped build.
It is here that James A. “Jamie” Hunt (RTS ’71) and his mighty little band of almost 300 faithful believers are preserving one of their most cherished traditions — keeping the faith day after day, without fanfare, just as they have for almost three centuries.
This might sound easy, but, in fact, it is not. Coddle Creek is changing rapidly, and its members are having to learn how to keep the faith in a society foreign to them. Farming is dying out in the area, giving way to middle class jobs. The Charlotte metropolitan area is creeping northward, and soon Coddle Creek will no longer be a peaceful village but one of Charlotte’s many bedroom communities. In an area where townsfolk can probably remember when each house was built for the last one hundred years, new subdivisions are now popping up just three or four miles down the road.
However, instead of running from such change, Coddle Creek Presbyterian has embraced it. Several years ago church members noticed a significant population growth at Lake Norman, some twelve miles away from the church. Working with two men who had a vision for an ARP church there, several families in the church began a Sunday night Bible study and asked Jamie to teach. Attendance rose steadily, and soon Jamie was preaching a morning service there. Shortly thereafter, the group called another RTS graduate, Bob Hamilton (RTS ’73), as pastor and recently were officially organized with over 120 members.
The church has a heart not only for the local community but also for foreign missions. The congregation began praying several years ago for the Lord to convict one of the members to go to the mission field. In 1987, a young lady volunteered for short term mission work in Mexico and subsequently taught for two years at a private American school there while working at the ARP mission. Later, another member did construction work at the same ARP mission. He was scheduled to return to Mexico this past year, but a serious accident prevented it. However, he offered the airline tickets to anyone who would go; three men volunteered and subsequently helped build a church in Mexico.
While the same faces seem to reappear Sunday after Sunday in most small, rural churches, new people steadily stream to Coddle Creek Presbyterian. “I believe it’s because we faithfully lift up Christ and preach the Scripture,” says Jamie. “Not many places are doing that. I think people come here because they know they will hear the Gospel and how it should be applied in their lives.”
The church’s success could be due in part to Jamie himself. Elder Tom Patterson has seen a marked change in the congregation’s spiritual life under Jamie’s capable leadership.
“Jamie’s strong teaching and preaching have noticeably deepened our congregation’s sense of commitment to Christ and seriousness about God’s Word. People are really studying God’s Word! Through his very practical ministry, we have not only seen numerical growth but also a deeper level of fellowship and caring, a deeper understanding about reaching out to others.”
A winsome people-person, Jamie is an easy person to like; his pleasant Southern drawl is guaranteed to ease anyone’s tension.
“I love people, and I love working with people,” he confides. “Most relationships have become so clinical and suspicious today; I count it a privilege to have been an intimate part of my congregation’s lives. When a pastor has been involved with people in their joys and miseries, their deaths and births, a great affection grows, a trust which develops and matures. You know them, and they know you.”
Dedicated to slow and easy change, Jamie builds his ministry “line upon line, precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10), a perfect philosophy when working with a church steeped in tradition. He focuses on strengthening the families in his church and helping the men become strong leaders both in the church and at home.
His days are long, and he must wear many hats. “In some ways, a rural pastor works much harder than a city pastor,” Jamie says. “A metropolitan congregation has a more homogeneous group of people; similar people tend to gravitate to the church. If a person doesn’t “fit in” at one church, he simply goes down the street until he finds his kind of people. On the other hand, in a rural area the neighborhood church may draw all kinds of people from a five or ten mile radius, giving it a more heterogeneous mix of people. The pastor must be able to minister well to all of them.”
Add to that a rural pastor’s responsibilities, and you have a massive job description. Jamie has no secretary; if you call Coddle Creek Presbyterian, you get to speak to the pastor himself! He oversees the youth work, calls on the sick, and counsels anyone who needs help — all this on top of preaching and teaching regularly. Needless to say, something new is bubbling all the time in Jamie’s pastoral life.
A pastor’s greatest help is often his wife, and Jamie is no exception. He confesses, “Cathy is a great strength to me, a faithful partner in prayer and perseverance. She’s the corrective I often need, giving me the proverbial kick in the pants when I need it. She’s also a good counselor and works well with the women, young and old alike.”