When Larry and Carol Smith first moved to Gastonia in 1977, they couldn’t have imagined helping to start a new church. Fast forward to 2020 and the couple stood back and watched as Eastside Church of the Nazarene celebrated its 35th anniversary.
When the Smiths moved to the area, they started out at First Church of the Nazarene in Gastonia.
“After we were out there for a little while we thought that the Nazarene church was going to be growing in this city, so we thought it would be a good idea to have one growing on the other side of the city, too,” said Larry. “We also had an idea that we could reach this community and there would be people that might want to join something new like this.”
Led by the Rev. Wayne Thomas, around 38 individuals from 14 families came together and in 1984, got permission from the Church Board and District Superintendent Oval Stone to branch out on their own.
By 1985, Eastside Church of the Nazarene had gone from dream to reality.
The group originally met at Sherwood Elementary School on Sundays and at the home of Harry and Helen Jones on Wednesdays.
“We struggled to find affordable property,” said Carol.
From 1987 to Mother’s Day of 1991, they rented a building off of East Franklin Blvd. that had at one time been home to a motorcycle shop.
The church is now located on Redbud Drive in Gastonia, high on a hill that was once a farm with horses.
Originally, members wanted to have a fellowship hall sitting where the current building is and the sanctuary up ahead a little further, but church membership -- among other reasons -- hasn’t warranted that much space yet. In fact, some of the members and the Rev. Joe Bell, who has served at Eastside since 1997, had hoped the congregation would be a little larger by now.
“I came here expecting we were going to be running 250 (members) in 5 years,” said Bell.
But what’s most important, they say, isn’t the size of the congregation; it’s the people themselves and how many lives they have touched.
“Things have happened; people’s lives have been changed since we’ve been here. We haven’t had the growth or expansion we would like, but we can look every year and say somebody got closer to God. That’s what we’re supposed to do,” said Bell.
Currently, the church works heavily with the younger crowd. They started a tutoring program, Gaston Hope in Christ, more than 20 years ago, which has helped the church with getting their name out and gaining members. Additionally, they have the usual Sunday schools and Bible classes.
“We’ve always loved kids. If a person brings a child and puts them in a Sunday school class or nursery where the teachers love the kids and want to be there with them, the parents will bring them back,” said Carol.
Bell and the Smiths joined the congregation in welcoming back past members of the church on their 35th anniversary celebration, held Jan. 5. Historical photos and newspaper clippings adorn posterboards all around the church, letting visitors and anyone who couldn’t come to the celebration know just how far they’ve come.
For more information about Eastside Church of the Nazarene, visit esnaz.com or find them on Facebook.
Reach reporter Brandy Beard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-869-1840.