Odell “Dell” Dillard, a devoted gardener and catcher of trout, is a United Methodist through and through, able to claim membership in ten different UMC congregations throughout his life. He grew up in nearby Candler, went off to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then into the Navy and graduate school at East Carolina University. After 38 years working with the Bank of America, he was happy to retire in 2006 “close to home.” He says his family is still here and his heart never left.
Dell reflects that he has often felt what Kris Kristofferson once sang in a song: “Why me, Lord? What did I ever do to deserve the blessings I have?” He tries to live by the words of Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Haywood Street Congregation worship, says Dell, “is the one thing I don’t miss” in a week. He faithfully and enthusiastically puts everything into place for Wednesday church services and gathers it all up again afterwards. “I’ve been a leader many times,” he explains, “now it’s time for me to be a helper.”
The church “is a place of safety,” he says, “where people are cared for and respected.” Pastor Brian Combs is “as genuine a person as I’ve met,” says Dell, “and he sets the tone.” Dell believes that Haywood Street Congregation “is going to turn into something really outstanding, a model for other churches.”
Dell admits, “I had a stereotypical opinion of homeless people. This ministry is unique. It gives us the chance to sit down together and find out who people really are. They think the same thoughts, and have the same feelings, as me—they just have significantly different problems than I’ve got.”
Dell loves that the church is “so non-traditional, focusing on people and their needs, taking dogma out and making it simple.” He says, “Jesus didn’t have a lot of rules and regulations. He spoke from the heart. This is not about power—who you are or what you’ve done. This is about ministry and service, about being real.”