Story and Photos By Jessica Isaacs | [email protected]
The Rev. Gordon Noble is one of four preachers who will be honored with their wives at a community-wide pastor appreciation event set for Saturday, Aug. 6 at the National Guard Armory in Boone. Click here to read more about the event and check out the July 2016 edition of High Country Magazine for the full story.
At Home in the Hills
The little rock church in downtown Boone has been a landmark in the town for generations. Its doors have always been open to anyone seeking a place to worship, no matter their background or denomination. The same man has led that church, Boone Advent Christian, for the last half century, and, although he’s recently retired from the fulltime pastorate, his heart for Jesus, his great big smile and his kind, loving spirit remain fixtures in the community.
In the late 1950s, a young Gordon A. Noble from West Virginia had recently earned a degree in architectural engineering from the Maryland Institute of Art. Until his father, an Advent Christian pastor, brought him along to help lead an evangelistic youth camp, he had plans of his own.
“My dad talked me into going with him. I was planning to go into the navy, but I didn’t know he and God had been talking about this,” Noble said. “I was sitting with this little girl on the last day of camp. I don’t know what my dad preached, probably didn’t hear a word he said. The first thing I remember hearing him say was, ‘Okay, this is the night that we’re inviting you to come forward and give your life to fulltime Christian service.’
“That’s when my light went out. They say I ‘bout broke her arm turning her loose and I was pushing over people. I ran down the aisle and they said I prayed and prayed and prayed. I heard someone say, ‘Well, Gordon, what are you going to do now?’ I answered, ‘I must go to school to prepare myself for the ministry.”
And that he did. He began studying right away at Berkshire Christian College in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was there that he met Jane, a classmate from Ferguson, North Carolina, who would later become his wife and partner in ministry.
After his graduation from Berkshire in the early 1960s, Gordon and Jane were married and moved to his home state for his first fulltime pastorate in Dunbar, West Virginia. They’d been serving there for three years when they received an invitation from that little congregation in Boone, North Carolina.
Before officially accepting the offer, the young preacher made sure to confer with his wife, who was happy to be in West Virginia but feeling homesick for the comforts of Carolina.
“I went down to ask Jane about it and she said, ‘That’s not my choice. That’s between you and God. You’re the one He called to preach,’” Noble explained before letting out a good laugh. “But sometimes I like to tell people that she said, ‘You and the Lord can do what you want to, but I’m going home to start packing.’”
At the time, he had recently been in town to preach revival at the church.
“Even before I came for revival, I supplied there a couple of times for the former pastor. My mom and dad lived in Hickory at the time, so I’d go through Ferguson to pick Jane up and bring her up here,” he said. “One time, on the way back I told her, wouldn’t it be great if we could stay in the ministry, stay in the Appalachian region until it’s getting’ up late in our lives and we could come to Boone, pastor here and retire here? Well, late in life didn’t work, and I was 30 years old when we came here.”
Accepting the Challenge
Before making the move, Noble was careful to consult with his predecessor and find out why he was leaving. The answer surprised him, and what had disheartened the former pastor quickly lit a spark in the new preacher’s heart.
“He told me that there were about 27 people in the church at the most in any service and most of them were senior citizens. He’d been to four funerals in a row and said he just couldn’t stand to sit any longer and watch the church die,” said Noble. “I thought, right here in Boone? When Appalachian State University is growing like it is, why should a church ever die? That was a challenge to me.”
Jane and Gordon soon relocated, and he brought his first message as pastor at Advent Christian on New Year’s Day 1966.
His first order of business was to take Advent’s mission outside the four walls of the church. He made the decision to begin his Sunday evening services at 6 p.m., an hour earlier than most congregations in the area.
“I’d get out of the six o’clock and I’d go to a different church just to make myself known and let the people know about our church,” Noble said. “I’d say, ‘Come on, we’re the same as you are.’”
From the front door of the sanctuary, with the campus of Appalachian State University right across the street, Noble saw the mission field set clearly before him and made strides over the next several years to get involved in on-campus outreach.
Seven years later, God opened the door for Advent to host one of the first college ministries in the county. It’s a miraculous story, and it’s one that Noble loves to tell, although it still brings tears to his eyes.
“You have to realize that the number seven in the Bible means completion and fulfillment. One Sunday morning, we started at a quarter to 10, so I’d already started the service when I saw these two college girls come in through the door,” he explained. “I ran back there to them and I grabbed those girls and hugged them. I had to try not to cry, because I’d been praying for something like this for so long.
“They were barefooted. They had blue jeans with cut-off places in them, sloppy looking blouses, and you could tell they weren’t wearing any undergarments, and their hair didn’t look too good; but I hugged them and I just welcomed them to this church.”
As the Nobles later learned, those two visitors were part of a blind experiment through which students dressed in disheveled clothing and attended various churches to see how they might be treated. They reconvened later to share their experiences, and the two who visited First Advent had quite a different story to tell than their peers.
“People told them not to come back if they couldn’t be more respectful, if they couldn’t be cleaner, all this kind of stuff. Jill and Sue, who came here, said to them ‘You ain’t gonna believe this’ and told them how they were treated here. I get choked up even now just thinking about it. That next Sunday, we had 18 of them in church.”
So began Boone Advent’s college ministry, which thrived for many years under the Nobles’ direction. The church offered associate memberships to participating students so they wouldn’t have to renounce association with their home churches. The group, called “the Adventurers,” drew in up to 60 student members at a time at its height.
“One Sunday a month was college Sunday. They did the whole service, and, when they did, they’d bring others over to hear it,” said Noble. “They did the choir, they did everything, and it made them feel such a part. We just loved having them.”
Today, with a growing number of outreach programs popping up around the county, Advent sees smaller numbers of students in service than it did during the heyday of its college ministry; but the Nobles say the church’s doors, and its heart, will always remain open to its neighbors at Appalachian State.
And He Called Her an Angel
Over the past five decades of their ministry, Jane and Gordon Noble have seen their fair share of divine appointments and interventions. Even in the wake of their own personal tragedies, God sent his messengers to remind them that He is always in control.
“We lost a grandchild, Tyler, before he was born 14 years ago. He was carried for eight months. That was a traumatic experience on all of us,” Noble said. “On me, as a pastor, that was one of the times I kept wanting to say, Why, God? That child didn’t even have a chance to breathe air in this world.”
Noble, who has always called himself a “bivocational pastor,” was working part-time at the nearby Hampton’s Funeral Home when his grandson passed away. Too devastated to stand at the pulpit for several weeks, he mustered the energy to work receiving at the funeral home one night. He stood by the front door when an elderly woman approached him; he’d never seen her before, but he was soon convinced she was Heaven sent. Their exchange was curious:
“You’re Rev. Noble, aren’t you?”
“You just lost a grandson, didn’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am, I did.”
“And you’re from West Virginia, aren’t you?
“I started choking up,” he said. “I thought, who is this woman?”
“In West Virginia, did you ever sing that song called ‘Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet?”
“Yes, we used to sing that all the time.”
“Have you ever thought maybe God just wanted a bud in his bouquet to watch it bloom?”
“Then she went away. We couldn’t find her and nobody could identify her. She just wasn’t around,” said Noble. “From that moment on, it just all left me. It just all left me. That was my angel.”
Today, if you ask Jane and Gordon about their family, they’ll tell you they have two children, Kimberly and Mark, and six grandchildren, five on earth and one in Heaven.
Welcome to Our Family
Jane and Gordon’s ministry at Boone Advent Christian remained centered on an open door policy. While their doctrines align more closely with Baptist beliefs, all denominations are welcome to worship at Advent.
“That doesn’t matter here. We’ve developed this church over the years to be more of an interdenominational church — a community church,” he said. “Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics — you name them, we’ve had them and we have them now.
“The Bible says, study to show yourself approved unto God. I don’t care what church you belong in, study the word of God to prove yourself to God — not to me and not to a denomination — and, if you’re satisfied with your studying and your belief, you’re welcome here.”
Recognizing the Bible as the inspired word of God is first and foremost in the Advent Christian beliefs, and all who share that are considered part of the family of Christ.
“Some people say, if it’s interdenominational, then what do you ask people before they can join? Well, here’s what I ask them: Do you believe the word of God is the holy, inspired word of God? Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe that Jesus Christ can forgive your sins? Have you accepted him as your personal savior? When they say yes, I say, ‘Welcome to our family!’”
Since Gordon’s first message in 1966, the Nobles have seen the church grow from 27 members up to 120, 140 and sometimes 160 in a typical Sunday morning service.
In late October of 2015, just two months shy of the half-century mark, Noble followed the Lord’s direction and chose to retire from the fulltime pastorate.
“I knew I couldn’t stay for another two months just to make a name for myself, and I heard a little voice telling me it was time to retire,” he said. “A friend of mine, a retired Lutheran minister, said he’d like to use me on a circuit of churches.
“I asked God if He’d let me preach maybe once a month somewhere. I don’t know how many Sundays it’s been since then, but it’s been more than once a month. It’s just a good experience.”
Jane and Gordon have touched the lives of many people in the High Country over the years, and many look forward to showing their support at the community-wide pastor appreciation event in August when the couple will be recognized.
“It’s a bigger deal than I thought it was going to be, but I am very flattered and very honored. I felt humbled,” he said. “I’m not really good with recognition, and she’s not either. I don’t like to be given some type of honor for what I’ve done for God.
“I’m 79 years old and most of that time I’ve been working for God. That’s been a blessing and he’s taken care of and done so much for us.”
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