All of the encouragement to explore a call at Sandy Plains UMC complements a larger effort: to put laity to work in meaningful ways.
If you ask the people whose names appear on “the plaque” at Sandy Plains United Methodist Church how their movement to ministry began, they’ll share a similar story: The church encouraged them to explore their call, their call came later in life, and the church provided support once they received the call.
Perhaps no better illustration about how this plays out can be found than in the story of the Rev. Larry Chandler.
“The Holy Spirit is working there in a strong way to bring leaders,” he said. “There is a sense of being a servant, and the church helps you embody that and act it out in your life.”
When Chandler began attending Sandy Plains in the mid-1990s, he was a ninth-grade dropout with a history of alcoholism and drug addiction. He had come to the church through his wife, Beverly.
She had first come to Sandy Plains through a former pastor, the Rev. Bob Mangum, who used to drive an old station wagon to pick up children in Pembroke and bring them to Sunday services. Beverly was one of those children.
Though a few pastors have come and gone since Beverly matured into adulthood, the church’s emphasis on “Every member in mind” had long seeped into the congregation and was being carried on by lay leaders and succeeding pastors.
Among those was Rev. Kong Suk Namkung, who led Sandy Plains in the 1990s.
On Chandler’s second visit to the church, Namkung asked him to greet people and take down the names and contact information of visitors. When Namkung visited the guests at their homes during the week, he asked Chandler to join him. Then, he asked Chandler to use his work van to pick up people who needed a ride to church. And he met with Chandler and his wife to lead them in an individual study of the Bible -- taking them from Genesis to Revelation -- before they joined an adult Sunday school class.
After a time, at Namkung’s encouragement, Chandler was completing UMC-sponsored programs such as lay speaker training.
Each invitation allowed Chandler to envision something a little more for his life and vocation, he said.
He went on to complete course work for a GED and a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy before earning a master of divinity from Duke University in 2004. When he was enrolled at Duke, church members gave him small amounts of money every once in a while to help with expenses, and he received support from a special offering collected at United Methodist churches for Native Americans studying to be clergy.
Today, he’s the pastor of Asbury UMC in Cove City, N.C.
“One of the things that was important to me was having someone who would include me, who gave me something to do, who believed in me, and who helped me to bring out the potential that God had for me,” Chandler said.
“You might see that happening in other churches -- I don’t know -- but there is something about the Holy Spirit and the fire that is at work in Sandy Plains.”