Southview Baptist Church in
Charlotte was born in 1965 from an unconventional conception. No coroner has
penciled in the date of its inevitable demise, but the patient is being kept
Administrator of comfort is
Joe Denson, Southview pastor since 1976 whose retirement three years ago was
simply not accepted by the church. He left on a Sunday and members rescinded
his retirement on Wednesday.
Now Denson pastors a
congregation of about 30 regulars in a building they’ve sold to another church.
Iglesia Pentecostal Ebenezer bought the facility for $750,000 and Southview
holds the 30-year note with a 10-year privilege to use the facility rent free.
Income from the mortgage and member gifts keep Southview operating — helped by
the fact that Denson receives no salary.
Southview peaked in
membership at about 180 around 1985.
Then the neighborhood
changed, people aged, young people married and left.
“We just did not have the
drawing power to keep them or to bring in too many new ones,” said Denson,
X-ray honest with the perspective of age and longevity.
He will be 77 April 18 and
has been pastor of Southview since 1976.
Southview actually and
literally was owned by two families who started it. When Denson led an 18-month
drive to get the property legally transferred into the hands of the church,
those families left.
Denson came to Southview
from his role as education director at his home church, Wilmont Baptist Church,
a thriving 300-member congregation with its own school.
Nineteen attended his first
Sunday at Southview.
But he and Edith, his wife
now of 54 years, came to pastor Southview and have been there 34 years, through
the rise and fall of the church’s life cycle. He feels fortunate for his
Without finding a buyer, the
church would have had to close by now, its members disbanded. Instead, he said,
“We have the best of everything — the church is still intact, the church is
being used by more people than ever and the congregation has a place to stay.
We’re not merged, not disbanded and it’s going like it ought to.
“The Lord had to have worked
this out because it’s too good for someone to have put together.”
“To be truthful, we just
don’t have that much to offer,” Denson said.
“We’re almost a maintenance
church, with very loyal people. One of the reasons I stayed is because so many
of these people would never go to another church.
“They would never go. When
you get 80 years old and all, they’re stuck in their ways.”
The new congregation
remodeled the rooms, and performed delayed maintenance on the structure. A
black congregation also uses the building, beginning at 7 a.m.
Denson’s group meets at 10
a.m. and the Hispanic congregation that owns the building meets at 5 p.m. A
Korean church met in the facility for 10 years before disbanding.
Because the Hispanic pastor
is not yet credentialed by his denomination, Denson officiates at the weddings
of those members.
Denson, a Wake Forest
University grad, said if the church holds its last service before the mortgage
it holds is paid off, proceeds will be invested with the Baptist Foundation for
A fan of the pastor’s school
sponsored by First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., which he has attended
for 24 years, Denson was shocked in January when the church’s pastor Mac
Brunson, formerly a Baptist State Convention of North Carolina president,
presented him the Homer Lindsay Award for a Lifetime of Ministry.
“It was a total shock,”
Denson said. “I was so surprised the only way I could describe it would be like
playing Bingo without a card and still being told you won.”
But Denson said for the next
four days at the conference, “it was like being a rock star.”