After more than three decades as a Lincoln County school administrator, Hazelene Ford answered God’s call on her life to lead a church congregation.
Prior to starting July 1 as head pastor at Davis Chapel AME Zion Church in Vale, Ford served several years as a pastor’s assistant at Lincolnton’s Poplar Springs AME Zion Church.
The Lincolnton native and resident said the Lord led her to switch Christian denominations from Baptist to African Methodist Episcopal so she could further pursue preaching and provide for her very own congregation.
“He has a job for us to do,” she said. “He leads us and directs us.”
Ford’s biggest desire at the time was to work with another lady pastor, and the Rev. Renae McClain, of Poplar Springs, was that woman.
“She taught me,” Ford said. “She was my mentor — a wonderful woman of God.”
Prior to becoming a pastor in 1995, Ford worked more than 30 years for the Lincoln County school system as head of dropout prevention and other educational programs as well as a special education teacher in the early 1980s at Lincolnton High School, where she was one of the school’s first African-American graduates in 1966.
While Ford has developed little goals for her congregation at this point, she’s enthusiastic about encouraging church members to “just trust God for everything that they need,” she said.
Even though Davis Chapel has been in Lincoln County for more than a century, church membership has declined over the years with just nine members present at last week’s worship service, Ford said.
“We are going to have to build our membership and get the word out that we are here and make the community aware of our presence,” she said.
Ford’s far from showing discouragement about current membership totals.
“You preach to nine like you’re preaching to 900 because one soul is worth 1,000 in God’s sight,” she told the Times-News on Tuesday. “Jesus cares about us whether we’re one or 100 (people).”
She also plans to make the country chapel warm and inviting, mirroring a “country cottage” in appearance to draw people to a place where they can “bring their cares and troubles,” she said.
While Ford understands that her primary challenge as a preacher is meeting her congregation’s needs, she doesn’t see any obstacle “too tough” to handle, she said.
“If you love people and are genuine…and open up, people will come to you and develop trust in you,” Ford said.
She and her husband Gary, who’ve been married 41 years, have two grown children, daughter Garrett Martin-Yeboah and son DeRon Ford, and boast five grandchildren.