By Peter Vankevich
It was a beautiful Sunday morning just before 10 a.m., the Fourth of July.
On the lawn outside the Ocracoke United Methodist Church at the makeshift altar was a young man casually dressed and in sunglasses – the new pastor, Logan Jackson. This would be his first service for the church.
Mingling around was a group of mostly seated parishioners quietly chatting. Among them was Catherine Jackson, Logan’s wife, and their four-month-old son Aiden.
There was some hope a few months ago that the church would be ready by July 4 — in time to commemorate its 78th dedication anniversary when it opened on this day in 1943 and for the new pastor to hold the first inside service since Hurricane Dorian badly damaged it.
In addition to the almost overwhelming repairs needed to withstand future flooding, the church has been raised to 9 feet, and it looks awkward. The outside stairs on July 4 were just getting framed with the risers in place, but no treads. Both physical and spiritual rebuilding from a hurricane and pandemic have more work to be done.
Pastor Jackson replaced Susie Fitch-Slater who, after just two years, returned to serve as the first female pastor of her childhood church in Wanchese, Dare County.
In his young career, Jackson already has had challenges.
His first offer and accepted assignment was in 2017 in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, to minister to two churches: the Randolph UMC, a historically African American church, and Holly Avenue UMC, a Caucasian church.
This was the first time that the two churches would share one pastor.
“It was definitely a learning curve for me, and those churches had never shared a pastor,” he said. “And they didn’t have a whole lot of experience interacting with each other on a lot of levels. And so, with me coming in being pastor of both churches, it was probably a little bit of a growing experience for them as well. But it went well.”
Jackson says that two involvements with the Methodist Church sparked his pastoral inspiration.
The first was as a young boy attending Sunday morning services with his grandmother. “Growing up, I was active in the children’s and the youth church groups but had fallen out for a time towards my senior year of high school,” he said.
In college, some friends convinced him to work at Buffalo Mountain United Methodist Camp in Jonesborough, Tennessee.
“There I received my calling,” he said, noting an inspirational experience of helping one particular boy.
Indeed, it is youth ministries that holds his greatest interest.
Like his recent predecessors, Jackson is a graduate of Duke Divinity School, having completed his master’s degree in 2017 at the age of 27.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in 2012 from East Tennessee State University in philosophy and religious studies.
After graduating, he took a gap of two years, moving to Knoxville while Catherine completed her bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of Tennessee. During that time, he was a ministry intern, an after-school teacher at a United Methodist Church and a climbing instructor at River Sports Outfitters.
While at Duke, he participated in fellowships and summer internships which included working at every North Carolina conference Methodist camp.
Jackson shared some thoughts on settling into his pastoral duties on the island.
“I firmly believe not to spend my time and effort setting things up that nobody’s going to come to or has no interest in coming to,” he said.
So, over the coming weeks he will gauge what the island and the church want and need.
Another of his priorities is understanding the ministry outreach of the church.
“I know that we’ve got the portable laundry facility and important decisions need to be made about its future,” he said.
Ocracoke Fig Festival Coordinator Sundae Horn asked Pastor Jackson and wife Catherine to help judge the seven kids entries at the 8th annual Ocracoke Fig Festival last Saturday. Jackson gladly accepted the request, saying afterwards he really enjoyed taking part in one of the island’s signature events so early in his tenure here.
As Jackson settles in, he finds that Ocracoke matches much of his downtime lifestyle. This includes reading about Ocracoke and its many folktales and spending time outdoors.
Fishing and walking the beach are doable on Ocracoke, but rock or mountain climbing may be a bit of a stretch.