Couldn't Ignore the Call: Wallace Enjoys Leading Congregation at Bethesda
It's been just over eight months since the Rev. Jonathan C. Wallace's July 20, 2008, installation as Bethesda Presbyterian Church's new minister in Aberdeen.
Only a month prior, he moved to the Sandhills with his wife Kim, a Pinehurst Elementary School second-grade teacher, daughter Erin (17) and sons Taylor (13) and Andrew (10). "New" to both church and community only in the most relative sense, Wallace has wasted no time taking root where he was planted.
A member of the New Hope Presbytery Committee on Ministry, serving 134 congregations in eastern North Carolina, Wallace readily embraced the chance to introduce himself on his first Sunday as Bethesda's new minister.
"It's a great occasion when you're a new pastor," says Wallace, "[one] when you talk about what you do and how you do it through explaining how you honor the Lord."
Self-described as "born in plaid diapers" in Atlanta, Wallace's Presbyterian roots can be traced to his baptism at downtown Atlanta's Central Presbyterian Church. His family moved to Springfield, Va., when Wallace was 7 years old. Viewed as an involved 14-year-old youth group member at Springfield's Grace Presbyterian Church, Wallace and his pastor discussed his thoughts of pursuing the ministry when he was a teenager.
"I tried to dismiss it, but the idea never totally left me," says Wallace. "It was not until I was in college that I seriously considered the possibility that I might have a call to the ministry."
As a College of William & Mary undergraduate, Wallace considered his religious studies to be his most wonderful academic courses, yet he had worked hard for an accounting degree. Upon graduating in 1985, he worked as a staff accountant at Peat Marwick (KPMG) accounting firm in Washington, D.C., for the next two years.
Wallace says that the divine "hound of heaven" that had led him to ponder the ministry as a youth pursued his soul into his formative professional years. Without looking back, he enrolled in Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., in 1987.
"[Seminary] was the best academic experience of my life," Wallace says.
After his first year, Wallace completed a summer internship at First Presbyterian Church in Bay Minette, Ala. From 1989-1990, he was an intern pastor at Gulf Breeze Presbyterian Church in Gulf Breeze, Fla. Ordained in 1991, Wallace was first installed at Summerville Presbyterian Church in the same-named Georgia town through 1995.
For the next five years, he served at Columbus Presbyterian Church in Polk County, before moving east with his family to become minister at First Presbyterian Church in Kinston, in 2000. Wallace proceeded to serve eight years in a church known for its pastoral tenure, yet he was ready for a new kind of ministerial challenge in becoming Bethesda's pastor in summer 2008.
"Bethesda has a rich history, and its congregation is deeply respectful of that history," he says, alluding to the church's progression through three houses of worship over two centuries. "Our congregation is characterized by a very strong sense of mission, both domestic and international."
Among the local outreach activities in Bethesda's repertoire, Wallace sees a strong congregational support for Sandhills/Moore Coalition for Human Care Inc., and Family Promise of Moore County. He was also pleased to have joined a church rich with celebratory tradition. Looking out over the expansive Old Bethesda Cemetery grounds on a clear morning, Wallace spoke in anticipation of the 82nd annual homecoming that his church will host this September at Bethesda's 19th-century historic church.
"Last year was hot, especially having worship in an un-airconditioned building, but it turned out to be a beautiful day with lunch on the grounds afterward," Wallace says.
Far beyond Aberdeen's town limits, his congregation also supports global relief through such efforts as Bethesda's summer 2009 mission trips to Jamaica and Mexico and its ongoing support of the mission work in India of Wallace's Bethesda pulpit predecessors, David and Sue Hudson. For seven years, the Hudsons were Bethesda's co-pastors, and David Hudson was named area coordinator of Asia and the Pacific for the Presbyterian Church (USA) World Mission in September 2008.
Wallace has also adopted Bethesda's tradition of ritual collaboration with two other Aberdeen congregations, Page Memorial United Methodist Church and Aberdeen First Baptist Church. The three churches rotate hosting joint services throughout the year such as Easter Sunrise, the Sunday before Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.
"All three are strong, vital congregations," says Wallace. "We're stronger when we're united together, and we have a habit of working together during the holiest of times."
Although an area resident for less than a year, Wallace has had ample opportunity to formulate his sentiments on serving a congregation whose lives reflect the spirit of Aberdeen and the larger Sandhills community.
"Aberdeen has been one of the most welcoming, embracing communities I've known," Wallace says. "Like all 'families,' this community always has room to pull up one more chair. As for the Sandhills, I've never lived in any place quite like it. Pinehurst Southern Pines Aberdeen outlying communities like Carthage all make wonderful contributions to the community."
Laurie Bazemore is a local freelance writer.
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