On her first trip to Lincolnton, it became very clear to the Rev. Mary McKey that this was the place she was meant to preach.
She vowed not to leave until it became equally clear that it was time to move on, and after eight years, that time has come.
â€œIâ€™m going to miss the people first, sharing their lives, and Iâ€™m going to miss the community spirit of Lincolnton,â€ said McKey, pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Lincolnton.
McKey is leaving for her home state of Florida where her husband has a new job, and sheâ€™ll be 20 minutes away from her grandchildren.
â€œI feel like I have been called out of Lincolnton and called to Tampa, and I just know God will provide something,â€ she said.
Prior to becoming a minister, McKey worked in Florida as a journalist and magazine publisher.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t say I was a spiritual person until my 40s,â€ she said. â€œI am what they call a mid-life call person.â€
She first considered ministry while running a tourist magazine, which was making her miserable. She worried that she and her husband would end up bankrupt, and one day at church when her minister asked her if anything was wrong, she burst into tears.
He told her: â€œMary you are not alone. God is with you in this, and God will get you through it,â€ McKey said.
He then suggested she read one psalm a day. On the 40th day she read the 40th psalm and deeply connected with the idea of being in a desolate pit and miry bog.
â€œSomething about it â€“ I thought â€˜Thatâ€™s where I am,â€™â€ she said.
She knew God would come to her aid, and, sure enough, her business turned around and she was able to sell the magazine for a nice profit.
She then took classes in hopes of becoming a Christian educator, but she didnâ€™t consider herself the type that could preach to a congregation every Sunday.
â€œI was a very practical journalist, publisher, businesswoman, and I didnâ€™t fit with what I thought a minister was,â€ she said.
It wasnâ€™t until she took a class focused on preaching that she changed her mind.
â€œAs I was preaching, I didnâ€™t see angels, and I didnâ€™t hear voices, but everything in me said, â€˜This is what Iâ€™m supposed to be doing,â€™ and I came down from the pulpit in a state of shock,â€ she said.
She then used her life savings to attend seminary school.
â€œI have done the best I can given who I am,â€ she said. â€œI am living proof God can use anyone.â€
She never expected that God would use her in the town of Lincolnton.
â€œI only came down here to interview to practice,â€ she said. â€œI was sure I was going back to Florida.â€
But once here, she knew she was meant to stay. In doing so, she became the first woman pastor in this area. Her church was also the largest Presbyterian Church USA in the state of North Carolina with a woman pastor.
â€œMy first reaction was â€˜Gosh, this is really an open minded congregation,â€™ but my second thought was â€˜How sad this is the largest one,â€™â€ she said.
What she has loved the most over the past eight years is watching members of her congregation change and grow, teaching classes and helping people through times of crisis.
She is proud her church has become a place where people of different ages and backgrounds come to worship.
â€œI think thatâ€™s how the kingdom of God is supposed to be,â€ she said.
Although sheâ€™s sad to leave it all behind, sheâ€™s sure of her decision. One of her favorite sayings is â€œWalk by faith, not by sight.â€
â€œWe are taking a step in faith,â€ McKey said.
by Sarah Grano