A miracle church
Mattie Lackey said people can feel the spirit when they walk into The Church of the Exceptional in Henrietta. Church members, volunteers and visitors felt that spirit when the church celebrated its 40th anniversary during a special service on Sunday.
"We are very excited because 40 years is a long time," Lackey said.
Lackey founded the church, which is a place of worship for the mentally and physically handicapped, in 1974. She came up with the idea when a friend shared the trials her handicapped son was facing at school. Lackey said she knew if students were making fun of the child at school, they would make fun of him at church. So she set out to create a place for exceptional people to worship.
Lackey shared the idea for the church with her friend Jewel Crawford. Jewel's husband Tom Crawford took the idea to the Methodist Men group at Cliffside United Methodist Church and it bloomed from there. In 1974 the church began meeting in the fellowship building at Cliffside Methodist. They met there for eight years before moving into the current building in 1982, which was once Henrietta United Methodist Church, off US Highway 221A.
"God started this church and He has never left us or forsaken us," Lackey said. "He has provided some of our needs before we knew we needed them."
The church purchased the building with $3,000 they raised with a penny drive. A little later it was able to purchase the rest of the property and another building for $2,000.
"We got approximately four acres of land and two buildings for $5,000," Lackey said. "God provides."
The church now has 42 members and has service every Sunday from 10 a.m.-noon. The service is open to everyone and the church is non-denominational.
On Sunday the special service began with the lighting of the candles and a performance by The Church of the Exceptional choir which sang "This Little Light of Mine." Lackey also gave a brief history for the visitors before she was presented with The Order of the Long Leaf Pine by State Rep. Mike Hager. (see related story).
Lackey also shared some of the miracles the church has experienced throughout the years.
"We needed a new roof and the estimate was $22,000. We thought it would be years before getting that money," Lackey said. "The church across the street at the time had a fundraiser for us in August and in October we had $22,000. God provides."
The church operates completely on donations. It is supported by many churches and individuals in the county. Lackey said they receive donations from individuals in Virginia and South Carolina as well as locally.
"Every little bit counts," Lackey said to the audience. "It's you people that make it happen. God working through you has led us to today."
The service ended with a performance by the 25-member Celestial Praise chorus. The group is made up of singers from the western North Carolina area who performed songs like "Thanks be to God," "There is a Savior," and its own rendition of "The Lord's Prayer."
"This church is a miracle and it's been a miracle from the start," Lackey said after the service. "It's God's church and He takes care of us. To God be the glory."