By Dean Palmer
PILOT MOUNTAIN — Almost eight months into his tenure at First United Methodist Church, Pastor Tom Hunter has been pleased by the church’s attempts to reach out in support of its surrounding community.
“We’ve done some good things,” he noted. “But, as I have believed in every church I’ve ever served, we’re capable of doing more.”
Hunter, 62, speaks from the experience gained in a 32-year ministry. After serving a six-year stint in the Navy, Hunter entered the ministry in 1980 as a student pastor in Polk County. As is common among the United Methodist denomination, he has since served several churches for periods ranging from three to 11 years.
“I serve one year at a time,” he explained. “That gives both the church and the pastor a chance to make sure things are working out.
“Where I live is my home,” he noted. “I’m enjoying the church, but I’m not rushing in to make changes. I want to help it build on what we have.”
As example of recent community service efforts at the church, Hunter mentioned a “Souper Bowl” food drive which netted more than 700 canned food items and almost $500 in donations for the Pilot Mountain Outreach Center.
And this weekend, he added, the church will host its biannual “Sweet Repeats” children’s consignment sale. The sale provides an opportunity for area residents to supplement family funds by selling outgrown children’s clothing while allowing other parents an opportunity to purchase quality clothing at considerable savings. And a portion of sales is used to help children’s programs at the church.
“This time,” he noted, “we’re going to have our largest number of consignors yet.”
The church also has instituted a regular “Thank Bank” offering, used by other churches where Hunter has served as pastor. Those attending are encouraged to make a donation while publicly naming some of the things for which they are thankful. Proceeds from the offering are designated for community efforts.
“We need to always be more visible, involved, active, comfortable and sharing with our community,” he said. “We need to be trying to make a difference. We need to ask ourselves how we can make a difference in the lives of the people who go by here every day. And when we succeed, the church gets the credit. It’s not about what I do.”
One way in which the church has become more visible is the recent addition of a new sign, replacing a longstanding brick and granite sign on the church lawn. Using design and placement, the new sign is expected to be much more visible to those driving by the church.
According to Hunter, the effort is being supplemented by a young man in the church, Weston Joiner-Payne, who is working to add additional matching signage around the property. As his Eagle Scout project, Joiner-Payne has raised funds for the signage which is being placed to identify parking and provide direction.
The project has been partially completed but was waiting on a request to be made this week to the town planning board. The church has asked for a portion of its land zoned as residential to be changed to commercial, allowing the new signage to be installed.
Hunter came to the church from Granite Falls, where he previously served as pastor of Granite Falls United Methodist Church.
With his move to Pilot Mountain, Hunter said, he and his wife, Patsy, have joined the growing ranks of couples in “commuter marriages.” Patsy Hunter is employed by Catawba Valley Medical College in Hickory, where she also resides.
“But she comes here on weekends,” Pastor Hunter noted, “and during the week when she can.”
The couple has an adult son and daughter and two grandchildren which Hunter refers to as “the lights of my life.”
While Hunter is enjoying his new role and its duties, he notes that he is still in the process of getting to know Pilot Mountain and its residents.
“I just haven’t broken in here a lot yet,” he said. “I’ve gotten to meet some people, but it takes awhile to get around. And it takes awhile for people to get to know you and become involved with you.”
But with his friendly and outgoing personality, Hunter should grow to fit in well with his new community. And that relationship should provide First United Methodist Church with another asset as it continues to reach out to provide service and support to its surrounding community.