By Peter Vankevich
Many were surprised last November, when Ivey Belch, longtime pastor of the Life Saving Church on Lighthouse Road, announced he would leave Ocracoke to be pastor of the Manteo First Assembly in Manteo, Dare County.
Many wondered who would take his place.
Belch was not only the pastor of the church (formerly the Assembly of God), but after Hurricane Dorian devastated the community, he founded the Ocracoke Interfaith Relief & Recovery Team that took up the rebuilding of island homes.
His replacement would be familiar to those who lived here in the 1990s when Tim Lynch served as pastor from 1991 to 1996.
A graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, Lynch fondly recalls his years on Ocracoke.
“I liked to sit on Wayne Teeter’s fish dock and listen to the conversations,” he said.
Having a life-long passion for basketball, when he heard about a community league, he showed up to join a team.
“I was the first preacher on Ocracoke from the Assembly of God Church to ever walk outside this church building in shorts,” he said, laughing.
Playing and later coaching the middle school team, he got to know many in the community who did not attend his church.
In 1996, while Lynch visited Israel for a few weeks doing mission work with Palestinians in East Jerusalem, he felt a calling to spend more time there.
“So, I called my wife, Paris, and said ‘You’re never going to guess what I’m going to say to you.’ And she said, ‘I have already guessed. In fact, I’ve already applied for a mission appointment for us to go to Israel,’ and my jaw hit the floor because we had never discussed that.”
So, at 30 years old, he left Ocracoke for Israel with his wife and three young children, Aaron, Seth and Samuel, to work at the Jerusalem International School as a chaplain, teacher and basketball coach with the Muslim community.
After about two years, he and his family moved to India where they spent two more years teaching and coaching at the Kodaikanal International School in Tamil Nadu. When they returned to the states in 2000, his career pivoted again.
“When we came back, I felt rewired mentally by the cross-cultural overseas ministry, and I just didn’t feel like I wanted to be a pastor of a church,” he said.
He visited a basketball friend who had been elected sheriff of Cabarrus County.
“After talking for an hour and a half, he offered me a job as a deputy sheriff and I accepted,” Lynch said, a position he served in for 12 years.
To understand his spiritual journey and what led him to law enforcement, one must know the prequel — his early years.
Growing up in Charlotte and Concord, he did not attend church.
“Okay, I was at the church of the of the big four: NC State, North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest,” he said about his love of college basketball.
His family moved to Mecklenburg County, and he fell in with the wrong crowd, smoking marijuana almost daily by the seventh grade. “My life was divided — smoking pot or playing sports.”
He asked some of the older kids how they got money for drugs and was told it was easy: breaking-and-entering. They invited him to a heist.
With meticulous planning they got the goods and were driving away. But they had forgotten on thing: Neighborhood Watch.
“It works,” Lynch said.
Someone had noticed a car suspiciously going back and forth while the youths plundered the house and had called the police.
“The worst feeling in my life up till then was seeing flashing blue lights approaching us,” he said.
When the officer noticed some firearms and the bags of stolen goods in the back seat, the officer pointed his gun directly at Lynch and said, “Do not move.”
Often in life, a bad thing can lead to good ones, and this was his.
“I was completely devastated and sought out prayer and support and found both,” he said.
So began a spiritual conversion that changed his life, turning to God instead of drugs and alcohol.
Being a juvenile, he was let off on probation.
It was both his faith and the experience of being arrested that made him a good law enforcement officer.
“I felt my life had come full circle,” he said. “From my youth experiences and being traumatized by having a gun pointed at me, along with my faith, I knew how to deal with people. I carried a 40-caliber, a taser, pepper spray and a baton, but my number one tool was my ability to speak to people and to de-escalate situations.”
He wanted people to see him as a safety officer, someone who would help, not as a threat.
In a recent sermon, he noted how we all experience tribulations throughout life, and he had his: A tragic house fire, a grave family illness and the passing of dear ones came all at once. So, he decided to move on.
That led him and Paris back to India at the same school for two years and after returning to the states, he took a job operating a bulldozer in Nebraska.
It was there that Belch tracked him down and encouraged him to apply to be the next pastor. With prayer and much reflection, Lynch said yes.
“Having gone through losing my house and entire possessions earlier in my life, I had full empathy for the Ocracoke community that suffered from Hurricane Dorian and wanted to help,” he said.
His first service was Dec. 2
When the warmer weather comes this time, people won’t be so shocked to see an Assembly of God pastor wearing shorts.