By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — For more than a quarter of a century, Gary Hogue prayed and broke bread with, rejoiced and grieved with his flock at the First Congregational Church.
On Sunday he'll step down as senior pastor of the church and turn over its leadership to a newcomer.
David Walls, formerly of Toronto, will be installed as the church's new senior pastor at a 10:30 a.m. service. Hogue will remain on staff and Jeff Goodwin will continue as assistant pastor.
"At 64 I don't have the same energy I had at 44 and 54," said Hogue, who came to Traverse City to lead the church in 1984; he'll work in a support role while "transitioning" into retirement. "I'm looking forward to his coming and providing what assistance I can."
Walls most recently was senior pastor at the Unionville Alliance Church in Toronto, where he's a Ph.D. candidate in systematic theology from Trinity Divinity College at the Toronto School of Theology. He also has served as co-senior pastor at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Bible Church and senior pastor at Church of the Open Door in Elyria, Ohio, and Bethany Bible Church in Phoenix.
He has doctorates in ministry in church leadership from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and in preaching and counseling from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.
He has written several books, including "Ordinary Heroes," "Learning to Love When Love Isn't Easy" and "Parenting by the Book."
Walls was born in Canada to a family with "ministry genes" — his father was a Methodist minister and aunts and uncles were missionaries to Africa — and is a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S.
He said he and wife Patricia ("Trish"), were drawn to Traverse City and the First Congregational Church after interacting with the people.
"The people of the congregation and the community just blew us away in terms of their warmth, their receptivity, their willingness to help, their flexibility," he said. "It was the people that really made the decision for us."
A golf and hockey enthusiast, Walls said he also was attracted to the area's landscape and arts and cultural scenes.
"There's no question that I would call Traverse City a hidden jewel. The scenery is spectacular," he said. "It has the feel of a small town with the amenities of a much larger place."
He said he hopes to bring energy and new eyes to the role of senior pastor, along with several passions: to preach the Bible and scriptures in a "relevant way"; to network with other churches on projects that "don't compromise anyone's integrity or vision or values"; to connect with the congregation and the community both in and out of church; and to assist the church in moving forward by building on its strengths and addressing its "gaps."
One of those gaps involves reaching out to younger families, he said.
"There's a great spiritual hunger in younger families today. They're looking for answers and looking for a place where they can develop relationships that can assist them in their life and that's an area we want to ramp up and address," he said.
During his 26-year tenure Hogue oversaw several improvements at the church, including the recent addition of a "Cross Way" to connect both ends of the building, and the establishment of marriage and confirmation "mentorships."
"Confirmation used to be looked upon as a graduation from church and now it's looked at as a springboard to leadership at our church," he said. "Many of our students go on to take leadership roles."
Other accomplishments include sustaining a local church television presence through Sunday broadcasts of "Traverse City's Message and Music" and maintaining both traditional and contemporary worship services.
"A lot of churches have blended services or all contemporary services," he said. "We managed to keep our sanctuary choir and our pipe organ and our traditional hymns at one end of the building and have very contemporary Christian music with our praise band at the other end of the building."
Hogue said he expects most church operations to continue along the same path for "the foreseeable future" but that Walls will come with "his own passions, his own interests, his own style."
"He's an outstanding teacher, a wonderful preacher, he has a great pastoral sense," he said. "He's very friendly and warm."
Hogue said he and wife Karen will continue to be active in the church but are looking forward to spending more time with their son and grandchildren in Chicago and with Hogue's 85-year-old mother in Cincinnati.
"We're going to remain involved, but with a smaller footprint," he said, adding that he'll work in the areas of pastoral care, senior care and teaching.
Walls said he is looking forward to "partnering" with Hogue.
"He will be an integral part of the church, but in a way that allows him to take care of other needs outside church," Walls said. "It's a good relationship and I'm so grateful because that doesn't always happen when you transition to a new church."
Walls and Trish, a registered nurse, have two grown sons, Jeremy and Kent. They will live in the Long Lake area.