Pleasant Hill, Relevant churches come together

Special to the PilotMarch 18, 2013 

— The first things to capture attention were 8-foot flags in lime, orange, blue and purple lining the Charlotte Highway and framing Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church, their colors echoed by the banner under the 100-year-old water oaks on the church lawn telling passersby “Something is Emerging.”

That “something” is the inspired effort of two men. One has pastored at Pleasant Hill Church for almost 30 years; a Boston native, Princeton graduate, with a doctorate in Church History, who still nurtures a passion for the Red Sox, enjoys recreational target shooting and commands an impressive mastery of classical literature.

The other launched his Relevant ministry 18 months ago; a Carolinian born and raised, N.C. State alum, Marine veteran and construction industry executive whose singing and song writing talents earned him a place on the country music charts.

Now, “two different visions of ministry are coming together to advance the Kingdom,” said Pastor Matt McGarity of Relevant.

“The tradition of Pleasant Hill Church has been one of bold moves,” said church’s head pastor, the Rev. Dr. Bob Jack, who as of March 10 officially shares pastoral duties with McGarity in the newly merged church.

The history of Pleasant Hill dates to 1836. A church marked by “firsts,” early church leader the Rev. Samuel Alexander was one of the first to minister to the freed slaves and raised money for what would become Johnson C. Smith University. In the 1960s, Pleasant Hill elected the first woman, Mary Virginia Winget to its Board of Elders and was among the first in the Presbytery to approve the ordination of women into the ministry.

“Our growth as a church depends on becoming more open and accepting,” Jack says, “and to do this we need to reach out to people in our community who have been disaffected with religion by embracing change. I think we will find our traditions enriched by the energy that comes from our merge with Relevant.”

Pastor Matt McGarity brings new fervor and passion to his role as co-pastor. As one of four children growing up in South Charlotte, home videos show him preaching to his siblings testify to an early ministerial calling. The Marine Corps, college, marriage, a successful career in the construction industry and the birth of the couple’s five children, now ages 3 to 13, postponed the decision to attend seminary until 2006 when McGarity enrolled in Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Two years into his studies, he was selected as associate minister for River Hill Community Church. In this role, he and his wife, Elizabeth, created a new ministry focused on the needs of families with children.

“We create a worship environment for our children that will capture their attention, like vacation Bible school every week,” McGarity said. “The kind of worship where the kids are waking the parents up every Sunday morning and begging them to go to church.”

Their Relevant service was created, offering a contemporary worship option that was immediately popular. When an opportunity arose to take Relevant off site, McGarity planted Relevant Church meeting at Oakridge Middle School. Within the first year, the church met at a second location outside by the lake at Buster Boyd Access Area. Due to the seasonal weather, the congregation meets at the Lake Wylie Bowl N’ Bounce at 9 a.m. Sundays.

“I felt God was calling us to plant and grow Relevant, to reach out to people who were un-churched and to connect a changing world to the unchanging word,” he said. “Our church needs to look like the community around us. More than just a ministry, we are an outreach movement.”

In the new arrangement, Jack will preach the traditional service at 9 a.m. and McGarity will preach at the 11 a.m.

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