The Ashland man has worked with two senior pastors in those four decades. Then as the Collins church welcomes its newest leader, Matt Van Gorden, Wallace will be there another month to help with Van Gorden’s transition and then will retire.
“I thought this was the perfect time for a change in leadership,” Wallace said. “This is the right time for me to step down.”
On Sunday, Hartland Center Community Church will welcome Van Gorden and his family — his wife Stephanie and their children. After the service will be a potluck meal and fellowship time.
Van Gorden, who grew up in Marion, most recently served at Yampa Bible Church in Yampa, Colo.
“He had a desire to move back to Ohio to be close to family,” said Wallace, who believes Van Gorden will be good fit at Hartland Center Community partly because he has been “serving in a rural community like ours. His wife is very musical.”
“I planned on retiring after his first Sunday, but Matt asked me to stay on until the end of March,” Wallace added.
The church board approved Wallace as its assistant pastor March 25, 1979. He said he was primarily called to lead the singing and worship music as well provide counseling and some preaching.
Those job responsibilities match perfectly with Wallace’s academic experience. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from United Wesleyan College in Allentown, Pa. While pursuing his master’s in theology from Ashland Theological Seminary, he also obtained a second master’s in psychology and counseling.
Wallace first worked with senior pastor Todd Froehlich, who was at Hartland Center Community Church for 32 years until he retired. After that, Wallace was the interim pastor until the church called Pastor Jon Johnson, who was there about five years.
“In fact, we all went to seminary at the same time,” Wallace said, referring to Froehlich and Johnson. “Neither of us knew Jon because he commuted. We never saw him.”
Once Johnson retired, Wallace organized a series of “pulpit supply” of preachers while the church search committee looked for its next full-time senior pastor.
Wallace said the church connected with Village Mission, an agency that supplies pastors to small churches and will help pay part of Van Gorden’s salary. During the search process, committee members interviewed candidates and posted a job opening on the Ashland Theological Seminary website.
“We (originally) were looking for a part-time minister because we can’t aford a full-time minister,” Wallace said. “Small, rural churches usually can’t afford to pay a pastor.”
Wallace has retired after 31 years working as a part-time medical social worker at the Shelby hospital. He did that will serving at Hartland Center Community Church.
Wallace, 69, has been married to Kathy since 1976.
When asked what made Hartland Center Community a good fit, he said part of the appeal was being “a small community church.”
“The people are very, very close,” Wallace added. “We fell in love with the people.”