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The Church of The Exceptional is 50 years old

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Little Charlie wasn't expected to ever be able to speak after he was born with complications that would hinder his speech. Some years later he was brought to The Church of the Exceptional where he attended church with others with special needs from across the county.

"Not only did Charlie learn to speak, he could carry on a conversation," Mattie Lackey said. "And he is just one of the many miracles," said an emotional Lackey.

For its entire 50 year history, miracle after miracle has happened at the church where Lackey has been the director since its inception. She believes it was her calling to help establish the church for children and adults with special needs.

She boldly says without any hesitation, "Without volunteers, there would be no church."

Dozens of volunteers and Lackey watched the children and adults with special needs experience miracles through the years and have witnessed the facility and van ministry grow successfully over the past half century.

Little Charlie and others who came through the church doors perhaps had felt they didn't belong and weren't included in other environments. Lackey said she knew exactly how that felt to be excluded. She had experienced it too.

Another child came to church some years ago and could not stop making noises and stomping his feet continually. After being in the culture of the church, he began to be quiet, always took his baseball cap off when he came in as well as his shoes and never stomped. Another miracle, Lackey said.

Mike (Mikie) has been a member 45 years, another miracle, and on Sunday, April 28 will ring the church bell to begin The Church of the Exceptional 50th anniversary celebration. At 2pm that Sunday, Lackey will welcome families of former and current members, friends of the church and the community to celebrate all the little miracles in the church's history.

Pastors who've stepped into the pulpit to preach over the years, such as Rev. Paul Lane and Rev. Joe Ervin, both who spoke once a month for 20 years having begun as teenagers, will attend. So will Rev. Keith Stout and Rev. Russell Sellers both early supporters of the church.

Rev. Tonya Garrison, children's pastor at Florence Baptist Church in Forest City, will attend. Through the past years, she's helped volunteer at the church, has brought children and youth for services and serves on the Board of Directors.

Lackey would have never believed 50 years ago when she surrendered to a call from God to begin the church, it would still be the call of her life at age 95. She'll remain until she's sure she has a calling from the Lord to step down.

Lackey, who lived in the communities of Ellenboro, Hollis, Mooresboro and eventually settled in Cliffside while growing up, said the Lord laid it on her heart to begin a special place for special needs children. She had heard from a friend whose nephew was in a special class in Avondale who never felt accepted by the others.

At about the same time she was reading a story in Reader's Digest and read the quote of an astronaut's wife who quoted a scripture verse in Isaiah, "Here am I send me."

That was an answer she believed to the question of how she could help in the community, so she became a Cub Scout leader.

Some time later she heard a sermon from Rev. Joe Richards at Sandy Mush Baptist with the same scripture verse and a challenge from Richards, "Will you come to do this for the Lord?" Lackey recalled.

Maybe it was a farfetched idea to begin the church, but her heart strings were drawn to having a place for everyone with special needs to worship.

She met with Rev. Harry Sellers, a United Methodist pastor, and a church was begun in the fellowship building of Cliffside Church with three people. That number grew over the years to 50 and now approximately 23 attend.

Children and adults have been transported to church by vans driven by volunteers. Through decades-long penny drives, the church in the past few years has been able to buy two new vans.

The van drivers who have driven thousands and thousands of miles over the past 50 years, will give brief testimonies at the celebration of the miracles of the penny drives.

Pennies are still collected each Sunday as members bring pennies to the altar table. Later in the service the regular offering is collected.

The penny drive caught on with a lot of churches and individuals and pennies were taken to the church even by wheelbarrow, such as the time Marshall Grant rolled in a load one day. Sam Horn pulled up to the church another day with a car load of pennies.

Continued on page 3.

The pennies added up and today the church is financially doing okay with the support of at least 20 churches near and far away.

A church volunteer was in the Holy Land some time ago and placed the name of Church of the Exceptional at the Wailing Wall. The church name would later be buried in the Garden of Gethsemane, along with the other prayer requests placed at the Wailing Wall.

Thomas Crawford, followed in his father's footsteps and became a committed volunteer and will be on hand Sunday.

"Mattie's gift is knowing how to help the children" Crawford said.

Lackey's son David Smith is the Assistant Director and has faithfully helped his mother along the way to serve the Lord in this capacity.

Lackey says the church was the first in North Carolina for special needs children and adults and is possibly the only church of its kind in the country.

The last 50 years have been a labor of love for Lackey and when she talks about the miracles of folks such as Charlie, Mikie, Regina, Sandy, Jessica, Mr. Mason and countless others, her eyes tell a story of faithfulness.

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