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Churches: Pastor with MBA plans for growth in disciples

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The Rev. Greg Van Dyke, new pastor at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Pawleys Island, likes to keep his door open so he can hear the sounds of children from the church preschool down the hall.

“I love to hear them,” Van Dyke said, “even the language they use to call out another friend. That sounds like a small thing, but as we get older our number of friends gets smaller. Here, it’s every child in preschool. There’s an energy.”

The preschool, he said, is a reflection of St. Peter’s commitment to serving others. Van Dyke calls it the “heart” of the congregation. The preschool was started, he said, because there was a need and the church had the ability to fill it. “This is a safe place where kids will be nurtured and loved,” he said. “It may grow the congregation, but the heart was let’s meet a need.”

The same can be said about other church programs — from “Backpack Buddies” that sends food home with children for the weekend and the Hearts of Grace Cafe that feeds people one Sunday night a month to the St. Peter’s handbell choir with members from other churches. “It’s one of the best I’ve ever been around,” Van Dyke said. “It’s actually an ecumenical handbell choir. That’s refreshing for me to be in a place where people want to live out their Christian identity. They want to serve and do what they are called to do without being stovepiped. That’s exciting.”

Van Dyke also pointed to a recent arts and crafts fair at St. Peter’s that benefitted Miss Ruby’s Kids, a children’s literacy program named for the teacher at Holy Cross-Faith Memorial Episcopal, the late Ruby Forsythe. “We are not the oldest congregation by any stretch of the imagination,” Van Dyke said, “but it has a heart for service.”

For Van Dyke, the ministry is a second career. He got a business degree from East Carolina University and an MBA from Winthrop and set out to become a restaurateur. He got sidetracked into banking before entering the Southern Lutheran Seminary in Columbia for a theology degree in 1996.

He wanted to serve rural churches and spent 20 years in the Pennsylvania Allegheny Synod. He must have retained some of his business training. While serving three congregations, he convinced two to consolidate. From there, he moved on to Davidsville, Pa., near Johnstown, and spent another 10 years.

“I probably could have stayed,” Van Dyke said. “You get those senses to see what the Holy Spirit is calling you to do as opposed to nesting or settling or hanging out.”

He decided to update his profile on the ELCA website to see what was out there. He saw St. Peter’s was looking for a replacement for the Rev. Dave Lyle. Van Dyke applied, was approved by the bishop, interviewed and hired. “The process went quickly,” he said, “a lot quicker than anything I’ve ever observed in the Lutheran Church.”

Van Dyke and his wife of 28 years moved to the Prince Creek area and left their three grown children in Pennsylvania. The oldest, a daughter, is a nurse who would like to move to the area. Their sons are both students at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport.

Van Dyke has found his congregation willing to broach difficult subjects like racism and sexuality. “Those things we want to ignore or leave outside, that’s not St. Peter’s,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you it doesn’t sometimes scare them or cause blood pressure to rise, but the best are the ones that scare you and challenge you in ways that we are not always willing to be challenged.”

Reaching out to the community is something Van Dyke wants to continue. “The church isn’t here in my view to just grow members,” he said. “That’s the mind set of the world. We are here to grow disciples. There’s a big difference, and discipleship begins with me.”

He said there are three driving questions for a congregation: Who are we? Who is our neighbor? What is God calling us to do? Van Dyke said he has been impressed with his church members’ self-awareness. “You ride up and down the highway and say this is a pretty affluent community,” he said. “You get back off the highway and see that it’s not. We have a responsibility not to just be consumers.”

Van Dyke’s plan is to let the church’s ministries grow from within. As a motorcycle rider, he doesn’t see St. Peter’s as fertile ground for a riding club, but it’s possible. “My job,” he said, “is to plant seeds, try to uncover where the gifts and heart of the congregation are and help put them together.”

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