Keeping the Faith

Zach Mills

Reggie Wallace has always been around good, old time religion. But up until three years ago, he never considered religion as a career.

“I always remember that when I was younger, I had a call to preach, but I ran from it,” Wallace said.

He grew up as a Baptist in North Carolina. His father was a truck driver, and when Wallace was 12, he went with his father to Kentucky, where he ran from his calling toward his own career in truck driving.

Three years ago, Wallace was running low on fuel.

Instead of taking the interstate, he decided to take a different route.

Not long after taking a shortcut, Wallace’s truck hit a curve in the road, turned over, flipped three times and landed on its side.

Glass was everywhere.

After Wallace regained consciousness, he pulled himself out of a shattered window. He had a deep wound above his right eye, and his right leg was gashed to the bone just below the knee.

Wallace was left bloody and badly bruised — but alive.

“I promised the Lord that when I came out of the accident that I would preach,” Wallace said.

It has been three years since the accident, and he’s lived up to his word.

Wallace has taken over the preaching responsibilities at Cecelia Memorial Presbyterian Church on 716 College Street, a small church built in 1847 and named after a former slave.

The white walls, which have been repainted, are cracking underneath new layers of paint. The wooden floor creaks with every footstep. The wooden pews, tables and chairs in the sanctuary give off an old oak odor.

Wallace is trying to revive his church. It has about 10 active members, five of whom were present last Sunday.

The church had only five members when Wallace started preaching there last July.

“I saw the numbers going down, and I wanted to come in and do the best I could do so that another church would not close down,” Wallace said.

But he’s not discouraged by his small congregation. The 37-year-old minister has developed innovative methods for gaining members.

He has adopted an alternate philosophy from what he says has become popular pastoral thinking. He said it’s time for church leaders to get out in the streets and recruit.

“Some pastors come to church on Sunday and expect people to come,” he said. “I think those days are over.”

James Hampton is an active member at Cecelia Memorial. He said he feels Wallace is doing a fine job.

“He’s doing very well, considering the time he’s been here,” Hampton said. “He just started.”

Hampton has been attending Cecelia since he was 16. He is now 78 and has seen about 20 pastors pass through the position during his many years at the church.

“He seems interested, and that’s good,” Hampton said. “I hope that he will continue to stay with us because we do like him.”

Outside of church, Wallace has developed a camaraderie with students at Western who, he says, need the Word of God in their lives.

His advice to them is simple.

“You don’t have to wait until you’re 40 to do the right thing,” Wallace said. “Don’t wait until your too old because you don’t know if you’re going to make it to 40.

“If the Lord gives you direction, take it.”

Wallace is also a non-traditional student at Western seeking an associate’s degree in nursing.

After graduation, he is planning to attend Louisville Presbyterian Seminary to become an ordained minister, but his heart is focused on his nursing degree.

“I want that more than anything,” Wallace said.

His desire to become a nurse revolves around the fact that the majority of his church’s members are elderly. Two members have entered a nursing home, and Wallace believes the Lord is leading him to a nursing home ministry.

“I want to be a pastor, but I want to be a nurse as well,” he said.

John Long, Western’s religious studies department head, had Wallace as a student for part of a semester.

“I’d say he’s one who perseveres,” Long said. “And I guess that’s one of the most important characteristics a person can have. 90 percent of ability is ‘stickability’, the ability to stick with it.”

Wallace has proof of his ability to persevere.

At a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting, he said his scars were a “reminder” of the alternate direction God gave him on that day three years ago — the day his life almost ended.

“I’m just trying to press on,” he said with a smile.

Reach Zach Mills at [email protected]