Worth Emory believes Jesus
never really stopped being a carpenter.
“The Bible doesn’t say, but
I just have an idea that if Jesus went to Mary and Martha’s house and they
needed something fixed, He fixed it,” Emory said.
“I just believe that was the
kind of thing Jesus did.”
A carpenter himself, Emory
has thought a lot about the ways Jesus may have used his carpentry skills, as
he “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38).
Recently, Emory celebrated
his 50th anniversary as pastor of Ivy Hill Baptist Church in northern Buncombe
It is rare for a pastor to
be in active ministry for 50 years, and exceedingly rare that his entire
ministry would take place at one church.
Also remarkable is the fact
that Emory has led this small country church in northern Buncombe County, with
Sunday attendance of about 80, to reach out in ministry across the
world. Ivy Hill has sent teams of builders to erect dozens of churches and
homes in several states, Venezuela and Honduras.
And usually at the helm of
the team is Emory, hammer in hand, working alongside Christians from around the
world wanting a building in which to live or worship.
“Jesus wasn’t just concerned
about the spiritual, He was concerned about the whole of mankind,” Emory
“He cares about everything
about us. And when He told His followers to go to Jerusalem and Judea and
Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth, He wasn’t just talking to
them, He was talking to me too.”
That belief feeds an
insatiable desire to help people, and for Emory, helping people is not just a
matter for words, but of actions.
“I’m a firm believer that
sometimes before you can really tell people about Jesus you’ve got to do
something for them to let them know you care about them. If somebody’s
hungry and you go and say, ‘Now, Jesus loves you,’ and don’t feed them, what
good is that?” he said
Emory gives his wife, Marie,
much of the credit for allowing him to pursue his love of missions.
“She’s been as big a part of
this as I have,” he said. “I tell people quite often she has carried more
of the load than I have. She took care of the family more, since I was
gone so much on mission trips and preaching revivals.”
Buncombe County native
Emory’s deep, slow drawl
marks him as a Buncombe county native. His church is about a mile from the
house in which he was born — the ninth of 10 children.
Emory married Marie Whitt in
1956, and announced his calling to preach in the same year. He preached his
first sermon at North Black Mountain Baptist Church in Barnardsville in
After an Army stint, the
Emory family returned to the Ivy Hill community in 1959.
Worth did carpentry work as
a youth, and in fact, he helped build the current Ivy Hill Church. He
began doing carpentry to support his family, and he preached at several area
churches. Then in 1960, the pastor of Ivy Hill Church resigned and the church
called Emory for a one-year trial.
He knew he wanted to
encourage the church to be more involved in missions and he felt impressed to
buy small world banks for every family in the church. The next Sunday, he
preached on giving to missions, and he passed out the banks, asking each family
to put money in the bank every time they thought of missions. When they
brought the banks back together, they had raised quite a bit of money.
“That sold that church on
missions,” he said, “and we’ve been a giving ever since.”
Unable to go to seminary, he
read voraciously to educate himself, often taking recommendations about reading
material from religion professors at nearby Mars Hill College.
He also took seminary
extension courses through the French Broad Baptist Association, earning a
diploma in pastoral ministry and numerous certificates of completion.
Then in 1971, Emory
volunteered to go with a group of Baptist men to build a church in Twin Falls,
Idaho. Little did he know it was to be the start of a chain of events that
would make his carpentry skills an integral part of his ministry as he participated
in or led teams every couple of years.
In 1980 Emory went to build
a church in a small village in Honduras called Santa Cruz. There, Emory
experienced the culture shock that Americans often encounter in Central
“When I went into Santa Cruz
on that first trip, the water was so polluted we couldn’t even wash in it,” he
said. “There wasn’t a building in
the village that had anything but a dirt floor, and some of the children had
swelled bellies where they didn’t get enough to eat.”
Emory and his team built a
church during the visit and later returned to install a tile floor.
“Somehow that building just
gave those people hope,” he said. “That first time we went back,
everything looked a little better.”
Ivy Hill started sponsoring
church members to participate in building teams to Honduras yearly. Each
time the team stayed in the city of Choleteca and ventured into the nearby
villages for building projects. For the first 20 years, the teams built
churches in the surrounding villages. Nine years ago, Ivy Hill began
organizing and leading trips to build houses for especially needy families.
Soon after the Ivy Hill
groups started coming, Southern Baptist missionaries came to the area and dug
wells, further raising the standard of living for the people around Choleteca.
With each trip, the Ivy Hill
team members started jamming their luggage full of extra clothing that they
could leave with the people in the village where they worked. In addition to
raising money for the buildings, the church began sending additional funds
which were used to buy corn, beans and rice in bulk to be distributed to people
in need. People from the church also began coming to hold a Bible School
for the children during the building project.
“I’ve watched a village be
transformed,” he said. “They have a nice school house now, a good deep
well with good water, a lot of the houses have floors now, and you very seldom
see the children looking undernourished.”
At 76, Emory is remarkably
fit, but a recent quadruple bypass made his doctor wary of the heat and hard
work involved in a Honduran trip.
About 200 people came to Ivy
Hill Church for Emory’s Aug. 1 anniversary celebration. As the
congregation filed outside after church to head to the fellowship hall, Emory
noticed that someone had parked a car on the grass. At first he believed
that the presence of numerous visitors had necessitated parking on the grass —
until he saw the big gold bow on top.
As a bi-vocational
pastor, Emory had made a habit of buying used cars. In celebration of his
50th anniversary, the church had purchased a brand new Nissan Altima for its
pastor who had taught them so much about giving to others.
— Buckner is media relations coordinator at Mars Hill College.)