Vaughn retires today from Spencer Baptist Church
Billy Vaughn came to Rutherford County 19 years ago on Palm Sunday to deliver his first sermon as pastor of Spencer Baptist Church in Spindale.
Arriving on the heels of the demise of the textile industry where thousands had lost jobs and the town lost millions in revenues, Spindale was facing hardships, one of Vaughn's missions was to "bring light" to the community.
Today Vaughn preaches his last sermon as Spencer's pastor and completes 47 years of pastoring and preaching.
"I will retire from being a pastor, but I will never retire from the ministry," the 71 1/2 year old South Carolina native said this week as he shared some of his highlights during the time at Spencer and his continued commitment to help poor people in the county have standard housing.
Vaughn said he read the account of a Spindale Town Council meeting in The Daily Courier about 12 to 15 years ago and learned the town was going to close its library and swimming pool due to the lack of funds.
Vaughn attended the next town council meeting after reading the newspaper story when council talked about closing the town's amenities.
He asked the board what it would cost to keep the pool and library open and was told $60,000. He asked for time and left the meeting with a mission on his heart.
"The majority of children in Spindale had no other place to swim except the pool", he said.
"These children needed that swimming pool," Vaughn said. The library was also a must for the town's residents.
He talked with the deacons at Spencer, the church and community and within six weeks had raised $75,000.
Vaughn said the supporters of the children in Spindale, "wouldn't turn that pony loose."
The pool and library were kept open and a celebration was held on the lawn of the Spindale House where everyone was served barbecue.
"Outside of winning people to the Lord," Vaughn said the pool story is one of his favorite success stories.
Unfortunately, a few years ago town officials closed the pool due to lack of funds, but Vaughn wasn't aware of the seriousness of the situation at the time and is disappointed the pool is closed.
Vaughn said another highlight has been providing free meals to 40 to 50 children attending Wednesday night activities at Spencer.
After the dinner, everyone goes to childrens' mission activities, choir or Bible study. He said they are reaching a lot of poor children who have a good hot meal each Wednesday and that ministry is reaching adults, too.
Vaughn was diagnosed with vocal chord cancer just a couple years ago. He said the people of Spencer and the community reached out to him and his wife Brenda with a great outpouring of compassion and love.
"One thing a preacher does not want to hear is that he can't talk," Vaughn said. "I had six surgeries from December 2011 to January 2013."
Once during the time he had to be completely silent for a two-week period and another time there was 17 days of complete silence.
As he healed and was able to visit parishioners, he wore a microphone that enhanced his volume. He preached with the microphone.
When he visited the rest homes and nursing centers, ministering to people who had trouble hearing, Vaughn took a white board.
"I'd write questions on the board and they'd answer," he said.
He wrote his prayers for the people on the white board and the patients read them.
"I have precious memories of writing the questions on the board and praying on the board," Vaughn said.
"With good head mikes I could talk and was able to make it. Through the grace of God and a lot of therapy, I can talk. I can't sing and I miss singing the most."
He began pastoring churches in 1967, having felt the call of God on his life to preach when he was a 16-year-old youth.
But he didn't pastor churches immediately after college.
He said while at Carson Newman University to begin his school and preparation for the ministry, he joined a ministerial group that was not positive for him.
Vaughn went to his Greek professor and shared his thoughts and concerns about becomoing a pastor. The professor told him not focus so much on the divinity degree, but to major in other things and there would be time later for divinity school.
"I'll be forever grateful for his advice," Vaughn said.
He majored in psychology, received a double major in English with a minor in history, Bible and Greek.
After marrying and starting a family, Vaughn was employed as a probation officer in family court and protective services in South Carolina.
"I saw a side of life I had never seen before," Vaughn said.
Those experiences prepared him for the ministry more than any degrees he received.
He stayed in the court system for several years and was close to going to federal court as a probation officer, when his life took the direction for which he knew he was called.
Vaughn began his pastorate as an associate pastor in Greer, S.C. and after that he he went to Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. and received his Masters of Divinity Degree.
While in Kentucky he pastored a small church in the mountains of Gravel Switch with a membership of 30 people. That was a dramatic change from his days in Greer with a 500-member congregation.
"There was no leadership. This was not a church split, but an intentional start. But one that needed help. It was such a blessing to be there," Vaughn said.
While there, Vaughn and the church physically built the church building.
"There was no money," he said.
He was later called to James Island in Charleston, S.C. to pastor a church. He stayed three years.
"I left there kicking and screaming," he said.
But he had received the call to go to Barnwell, S.C. where he would stay 16 years before coming to Spencer.
Twenty years ago Vaughn said he was driving a group of senior adults from Barnwell to the mountains to pick apples.
They noticed a directional sign for "Spindale" as the bus traveled along U.S.74.
"I told them it had to be a textile community," Vaughn recalled.
He had grown up in textiles. He told the senior adults that although they didn't have time to visit the town he'd never heard of, he would bring them back the next year if they went apple picking.
When the next year rolled around, Vaughn had been called to Spindale as Spencer's pastor and when the senior adults from Barnwell came to pick apples in the fall in the mountains of Western North Carolina, Spencer Baptist Church and Vaughn hosted them for lunch.
God does work in mysterious ways.
"I love small towns and small communities," he said. "That's where I meet real people."
In addition to his ministry with children in the community, Vaughn worked to remain loyal to his call to be a light in the community.
He was instrumental in beginning the Lenten Services for the Spindale community and started the Candlelight Christmas walk in downtown Spindale that has grown every year, bringing people to the Spindale House lawn for singing and a brief service.
The Greater Rutherford County Church Ministerial Association has been formed during his ministry. The more people that are working together, the greater opportunities for mission work, Vaughn said.
As Vaughn leaves the pastorate today, he is not leaving the ministry to the people.
A year ago he woke up at 3 a.m. with a call from God to find a way to provide housing for the working poor in Spindale and the county.
The Resurrection Housing Foundation, (RHF) Inc. nonprofit group has been formed to provide homes for the poor. Vaughn is the volunteer executive director.
The concept was developed by The Fuller Center that was begun in Georgia by the late Millard Fuller, co-founder of Habitat for Humanity with the late Clarence Jordan.
The new foundation is a covenant partner with The Fuller Center.
"We will be working with them on projects and they will be sending groups to aid us when we get started," Vaughn said.
RHF receives old houses that have been donated and volunteers will renovate and sell them to the working poor at a reasonable price. Whatever money is used for renovations will be paid back to the foundation with payments from the homeowner. Once the renovation costs are paid, the homeowner will own the home.
So far two houses and 8.3 acres of land has been donated to the newly organized foundation.
Some of the funding for the foundation has come from The Stonecutter Foundation and The Fuller Center (Millard Fuller's project).
"The call of God is a call for ministry .. .whether you are a probation officer social worker or whatever, You are serving the Lord." Vaughn said. "I've retired from pastoring, but I will never retire from the ministry."
Vaughn is a Certified Intentional Pastor and is working to help start a pastoral care program with other pastors in Rutherford County who want to join. Intentional pastors go to a church Vaughn's great-grandfather preached his last sermon at age 96 and he died when he was 98. "My goal is to beat him."
Vaughn and his wife Brenda, who retired three years ago after a teaching career, have three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. They are looking forward to spending more time with these children.
Anyone interested in more information about new housing foundation can email: billyevaughn8212@gmail.