Pastor who helped start church 32 years ago, retires today
Today the Rev. Owen Duncan steps away from the pulpit at Liberty Baptist Church where he has served as pastor since the church began nearly 32 years ago.
Duncan is retiring from Liberty and will wait to see what direction the Lord has for him.
"I'm just open to God," Duncan said Friday morning. "I made myself available to God when I was 23 years old and I am still available. I don't do resumes. Just wherever God wants me."
Duncan is most proud of the Lord's work at Liberty since it was established in 1982
"I have never had a doubt that God has led us over the years," Duncan said.
Nor has he doubted God's call on his life and on a "handful of people" who asked Duncan to lead in the establishment of the church.
He said about a week before Liberty Baptist Church was established, a person came to him to ask if he'd start a new church.
With churches on every corner, Duncan said he kind of joked back to the person saying, "that is what this county needs another new church."
He had been pastor of Race Path Baptist where the church had undergone a couple of bad experiences and some people left the church, Duncan said.
"They came to me and told me they couldn't go back to Race Path to worship, but they wanted to stay together," he said.
The group met in the back room of the former Shoney's in Forest City and asked Duncan if he would lead them to start a new church.
"I paused a few seconds and I said 'yes'. I never doubted from that moment until this. God raised up a fellowship," he said.
After meeting in several locations, including a former funeral home building, the basement of Ellenboro Town Hall and an old store building, the small congregation knew they needed a building.
One woman came to Duncan and suggested they get serious enough with God and pray all night about a church building.
They prayed all night and eventually through one man's dream were led to the property where the church is located today.
But they didn't have any money. After talking with a banker, they were told if they were willing to mortgage their homes to build a church, they could get the loan.
"It was one of the most emotional days I've ever seen. When I saw a handful of people line up and put their homes on the line to build the first building," Duncan recalled. "That was a humbling experience for me as a pastor. From that moment to this, I never had a desire to be anywhere else."
Duncan said Liberty Baptist is not "the typical Baptist Church."
"We're different. We have an informal worship service, not to be confused with looseness, but we're free. Our people worship free. If people want to raise their hands and give testimonies they do.
He said their music is a mixture of the old hymns and contemporary music.
Liberty was one of the first church facilities in the county to use a large screen with song lyrics in the sanctuary during worship service.
During its history, the church began a day care and later acquired Master's Academy which has grown to a K-12 school.
There is a food pantry every Saturday when 50 to 75 families receive food. The church participates in the Day of Caring and Sharing, giving out clothing, ministering and there are church members involved with mission projects in the United States and internationally.
They have an Upward Soccer program and the church is one of only a few to have a fulltime youth pastor, Duncan said.
Although Duncan will be at Liberty today, he will not preach today's message. His last message on June 15 was a time of reminiscing.
He recalled incredible answers to prayer during the past and especially remembers the prayers for the Linwood Perry family after his wife, Bonnie, and two daughters were critically injured in an automobile accident about 25 years ago.
He was asked by Linwood to go to Bonnie's Intensive Care Unit (ICU) room at Carolinas Medical Center and anoint her with oil. She was gravely injured.
After receiving persmisison, a group of people from Liberty went to the hospital and in a quiet manner, Duncan said, they anointed her with oil.
The medical staff later said Bonnie turned the corner after that and she began to get better. The same experience happened with their daughter Tiffany who was at a childrens' hospital ICU ward.
"I could write a book on the prayers that have been answered," he said.
Ducan was the only child of a country preacher in the South. His father preached in a one-room country church right after World War II. Duncan said he asked his daddy if he could preach one Sunday and his dad agreed to let him get up in the pulpit and say a few words. He was five years old. He preached again at age 11 but when he became a high school student he began to rebel against God.
"That is the only time in my life I didn't have a consciousness to preach," he said.
When Duncan surrendered his life to preach at age 23, he went to his parents and told them.
"That day he told me, 'son when you were a little baby, we bundled you up and walked down the corner to Broadway Baptist Church. We went into the empty chruch and laid you on the altar and gave you back to God," Duncan said of his father. "He had never told me that before and he never told me he wanted to me preach."
"I love preaching. I love being a pastor," he said. "I wouldn't trade places with the president of the United States.
Duncan leaves the pastorate today but not the ministry.
"I am open to what God wants. I want the new pastor to come in and the church just to take off and do things they've never ever done before. That would be great. I want them to have the best preaching pastor they can have," he said.
He and his wife, Hazel, will remain in Rutherford County. They have a home near the church.
They have three children, Bruce, Doug and Susan; and eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.