In the beginning….
It was in 1986 while driving his pastor to a meeting, that Pastor Erskine first mentioned his aspiration to pastor. It is a ride that neither of them has soon forgotten. At this time Pastor Erskine was certainly no preacher, much less a pastor. While driving, Pastor Erskine mentioned, “You know Bishop one day I want to pastor a church and have you come preach.” Pastor James Gilbert smiled in amusement and simply said, “Okay.” That statement was a seed that would shortly come to fruition.
A new work had been started in Newport in 1988 but the going was hard and the efforts were ineffective. Though the endeavor was noble, it just wasn’t working out. The work closed down and the North Carolina District of the United Pentecostal Church International was left wondering whether or not they should forget the whole matter or try someone else. The sectional presbyter was Pastor James Gilbert and he remembered what has come to be known by Pastor Erskine as, “The Ride”. So he took a chance and contacted Pastor and Mrs. Erskine about coming to check out the Newport – Havelock area. One visit and the deal was done! In November of 1990 Pastor Erskine and his Wife, Beth and 1 year old daughter Bethany moved to Newport, North Carolina from York, Pennsylvania, to start a Home Missions church.
Pastor Erskine remembers, “We started having church in the back storage room of a down town store front.” There was a family in town that decided they would like to be a part of this new work. Though they are no longer in the church, they were instrumental in introducing the Erskine’s to their first converts, Fred and Kerry Turner. Eventually the property owner was unable to continue allowing them to use the 8 foot by 16 foot storage room, so they had to make other plans. They began conducting services in their home. Eventually things started to click; the average attendance went up to about 15 or so on Sunday mornings. Finally their family room was no longer suitable for church. Pastor Erskine recalls, “The neighbors wanted to know what all the cars were doing driving into our back yard on Sundays.”
Tom Mann Road
After about 8 months the little congregation had to move out of the house and try to find a facility for church services. With little knowledge of real estate and even less funds, Pastor and Mrs. Erskine drove around Newport looking for a place to hold services. Through a series of events, they located a small piece of property with an old tobacco shed on it . . . it looked horrendous. The property was 1.86 acres and the building was 20 feet wide by 30 feet long. Pastor Erskine remembers running one of the church attendees by the property one afternoon to get their thoughts. “When we drove by and I pulled off the road, Fred just looked at me . . . ‘This is it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a fixer upper . . . but we can do it. Let’s see how much they want?’ We scraped $3,000.00 together with fund raisers and applied this to the asking price of $25,000.00.”
I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
Knocking doors, evangelism and bible studies were all instrumental in bringing about church growth in Newport. Nothing happened quickly; the church would grow and then thin out. Grow and thin, grow and thin. Finally, after about three years a stable, albeit small congregation, established itself in Newport. The little tobacco barn had served them well, unfortunately it was no longer able to accommodate the growth.
After 4 years of being on location in this sleepy little town of Newport, we had seen approximately 50 baptized. The fifth year . . . all of that would change. In 1994 the church decided to step out by faith and borrow the unthinkable sum of $50,000.00, to build a sanctuary that would seat 100. Pastor Erskine explains, “We had some money in the bank and we borrowed the $50,000.00 to finish the Sanctuary. Though it doesn’t appear to be much, compared to the expenditures of our church today, it was a tremendous amount of money for our church of 50 people in 1994.” The sanctuary was completed in October of 1995 and within 24 months the church’s attendance nearly doubled. By the fall of 1997 the church was averaging about 90 on Sunday Mornings with and evening attendance of about 70. Our little Sanctuary was filling up.
The Big Sanctuary
The church decided it was time to build again. So the church obtained the services of a local architect and started the process all over again. This time the building would be more complicated. Trying to get a new sanctuary attached to the existing building and still accommodate the current building codes proved formidable. After many setbacks, including work stoppages and wind storms, the building was completed. Again the bank was approached about borrowing more money to complete this project. This time the numbers were significantly higher and the payment seemed daunting. Pastor and Mrs. Erskine still maintained their secular employment during this phase of the churches history, which permitted the local assembly to raise a considerable amount of money for the building. Soon the sanctuary was completed and in March of 1998 the move was made. Pastor Erskine recalls the night they moved into the New Sanctuary.
“Because our buildings were attached, we needed to create a hallway to access each building. On Sunday afternoon, I sneaked into the new part of the building and cut the 2×4’s in the wall. That night about 30 minutes into the service, I stopped everything, told someone to go get a sledge hammer and we proceeded to beat the wall to pieces with a sledge hammer! Men and women joined in taking shots at the wall of separation. It is a time in our churches history I will never forget.”
Finally Real Faith Is Required
The last sanctuary on Tom Mann road was completed and the revival continued for the next 4 years. Pastor Erskine states, “That sanctuary would seat 160-180 and it was our design to fill it up.” After the Sanctuary was completed the church continued to have slow, steady growth and in 2000 the church built a small fellowship center/gym. Around 2001 with the growth continuing the church voted to begin the arduous process of purchasing additional adjacent properties. The church offered enormous sums of money to purchase meager, yet essential pieces of property. Multiple times land owners were contacted and yet they were unwilling, for a myriad of reasons, to sell the church any property. We were for all intent and purpose landlocked and it seemed no one saw fit to oblige us, by selling any land. The church needed a miracle; it would come in the most unlikely form.
Contract In Hand
The church spotted 4 ½ acres of land on the highway for a reasonable sum. The purchase would still be one of faith but it was doable! Everything was in place, offer accepted, paperwork filled out and agreements made. Then the bad news . . . the Town of Newport determined the church would be responsible for supplying a 2000 foot sewer line to the nearest sewage container. The church determined the cost of the subsequent sewer line was something we could swing, the problem was, the Town of Newport would require all adjacent home owners to tap onto the new sewer line at the home owners expense . . . a public relations nightmare!!! The church rescinded the offer and moved on.
Located on Highway 70 was a parcel of land that was owned by a Logging and Development firm. Multiple times Pastor Erskine contacted the company which represents this diverse conglomerate of businesses and tried to obtain 5 or so acres, for a future church location but to no avail. The property is just on the edge of Newport located between Newport and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. The property was an ideal location for maximum visibility and reasonable driving distance from Havelock and Newport. Off and on for the better part of 5 years, numerous inquiries were made. After completely forgetting about the property the miracle took place. A phone call was put in, an offer was made and God did the rest. The church purchased 66 acres of prime real estate on North Carolina Highway 70 and relocated in 2005. A new sanctuary that seats 350, a new fellowship center, a private school, children’s ministry area, offices, a Spanish Church and spacious grounds for outside activities are all part of the new church plant. We thank God for His abundant grace and provision; He has been our constant source of hope, supply and preservation.