By Rhonda Jessup, Director of Public Relations at the University of Mount Olive
Brendan Hooker of Garner had a rocky start in life. A child of divorce, he struggled with his identity, family connections, and friend choices.
“I considered myself to have been a rather difficult person to get along with until I found religion near the end of high school,” he admits. “Mental health issues and a general feeling of being unwanted made me act out in ways I’m not proud of.”
Once Hooker found Jesus Christ, he said, “I began to improve myself on moral grounds, as well as tackle the internal struggles that were negatively influencing my well-being.”
Hooker became a kinder and more outgoing person. Rather than avoiding him, people began to gravitate toward Hooker. “I was finally able to accept myself, and I became comfortable associating with others,” he said. “I began to form positive relationships that opened up fantastic opportunities to me.”
One of those opportunities came about during his studies at the University of Mount Olive (UMO), where Hooker was a student from the fall of 2018 until the spring of 2022. Majoring in English and minoring in psychology, Hooker accepted an internship during the spring of his senior year with the History Department at Wayne County Public Library. “One of my English professors, Dr. Alexis Poe-Davis, actually recommended the position to me,” he said.
During the six-week internship, Hooker’s responsibilities included attending lectures, helping teach classes on genealogy resources, and assisting other librarians. His favorite part of the job was writing for the library’s monthly newsletter, “The Big Ditch.” “I was really able to put my writing skills to work,” he said.
Hooker enjoyed the experience so much that, at the close of the internship, he applied for and accepted a position as a Digital Navigator. Since then, he has been promoted to Library Assistant/Public Relations Coordinator, effective August 1. In this new role, he will soon relocate to the Mount Olive branch of the Wayne County library system.
“My internship helped me to realize that libraries have so many great resources to offer in addition to books,” Hooker said. “My ultimate take-away is that you should take an opportunity when it is presented to you.”
Hooker plans to seek his librarian certification as he continues his passion of public service within Wayne County Government. He currently resides in Warsaw, NC.
“I am so grateful for the life-long bonds I formed while at UMO,” he said. “The quality of education that I received from my professors will help me achieve anything I set my mind to accomplishing.”
The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University is sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists. For more information, visit www.umo.edu.
I grew up under the ministry of Pastor Ferrell Hardison at Whitley Church (now The Bridge) in Princeton, NC. He raised us to see church ministry like we are all part of the same team. Jesus is the name on the front of the jersey; our church name is on the back. What matters is the name on the front of that jersey. I’ll partner with any church that let’s us work with them (to serve our community) because it is about advancing the Gospel not one church over another.
Andrew Price, Pastor of The Bridge Church, Mount Olive, NC
Andrew Price is a small town, country preacher with deep roots and agricultural heritage in the community he serves today, but he will be the first one to tell you how surprised he was to end up the pastor of a church in his hometown. Introduced to the Bridge Church (then Whitley Pentecostal Holiness Church) as a teenager with his mother, Andrew has been a part of The Bridge Church NC for many years.
When God called him into the ministry, it began as a job at Falcon Children’s Home and Family Services, an outreach of the Pentecostal Holiness Church serving at-risk children and families. There were many challenges to the work, but the highlight of that time was the fact that Andrew met and married his wife, Nicole, there. Nicole and Andrew both credit their time in service at Falcon Children’s Home for setting important foundational lessons to the ministries they would go on to lead later.
Purchasing a home in Mount Olive, Andrew and Nicole laugh when they recall the early years of their marriage. They say they “really were living on love back then; we didn’t have much.” Nevertheless, God put a seed of hope in their hearts that they could do something for God in the town of Mount Olive, NC.
Andrew took a position as the Children’s Pastor for The Bridge Church in Princeton, NC, and Nicole took a job teaching music in Wayne County then (later) Johnston County Public Schools. It made more sense for them to move closer to their jobs, so they rented out their Mount Olive house and made the move. This could have been a moment to feel defeated because they were leaving Mount Olive, but they didn’t. They knew God was in the move and would not disappoint them in the journey regardless of where the road ended.
Pastor Ferrell Hardison, then Senior Pastor of The Bridge Church NC, became a mentor and friend to Andrew and Nicole. He knew their heart for Mount Olive, but, at that time, that was not part of the vision for The Bridge. The Bridge Church was one church with two locations, Princeton and Goldsboro, and it was very intentional about how any further locations would happen. When the next location was attempted, it wasn’t Mount Olive, it was Smithfield. Pastor Ferrell asked Andrew to take the point on that launch because he knew he had a pastor’s heart. Andrew accepted and learned a lot during his time in Smithfield that would help him later as well.
Going to Smithfield was short-lived and seemed in the opposite direction of where they wanted to be, but it would not be the only time the Prices were left to question God’s plan. In 2013, the hurt hit close to home with the loss of their first son, Anthony Jordan Price. They still remember and celebrate Jordan every year with family trips to his grave. Jordan was just 40 weeks old when he died, yet he was a part of this world from the moment of conception.
It is hard to come through such devastating personal loss and see beauty on the other side of it, but Jordan is now a big brother to three brothers who have learned to value life more acutely because he existed. No life, no matter how short it is lived, is without value.
The Ministry Structure
Looking from the outside in, it is easy to misjudge The Bridge Church NC. Are they competition to other churches–even in their own denomination? Are they spreading the Gospel or just another rock-star contemporary church with a feel-good message? To all these questions and more, I point you to the Bible. 1 Corinthians 3 teaches us that denominations are not the point; we are all co-workers in God’s service. In John 17, Jesus himself prayed for a spirit of unity not division amongst Christians. As Pastor Ferrell explained it, we are like members of a football team, and when we go out on the field (in ministry in the community) it is as a team united with other churches, not in competition against them. The Bridge Church NC expands into locations the Lord directs its leadership to go, and it reaches people that haven’t been able to be reached any other way. Whenever possible, they work with other churches and organizations to make a bigger impact in the community through acts of volunteer service and giving to the needy.
As a whole, The Bridge Church NC is one church with, now, four locations. In addition to ministry outreaches in Kentucky and Belize, The Bridge Church is located in Princeton, Goldsboro, Mount Olive, and Smithfield. Though the sermon points are generally the same every service across all four locations, the personalities, strengths, and stories of each pastor as well as the locations themselves make each location different.
Since its growth into a multi-site church under the leadership of Pastor Ferrell Hardison, The Bridge Church NC has fostered a sense of volunteerism and community engagement unparalleled in many churches today. Moving forward under the leadership of Pastor Jim Wall, the church is strategically building a legacy to pass on to future generations. Members of The Bridge NC give of their time, talent, and treasure because they want to partner with the vision of the church and with its outreach to the community. They are excited to serve and see Jesus at work in their hometowns, and they volunteer as an act of stewardship and obedience to Christ.
The Bridge Mount Olive Story
When The Bridge decided to go to Mount Olive in 2016, Pastor Ferrell, Andrew, and Nicole rejoiced that things had come back around full circle to answer this desire of their hearts.
The first location was a very humble beginning in a rented auditorium at the University of Mount Olive (UMO). It was the beginning of a beautiful partnership with the college that continues today, but it was not an easy place to serve. Every Sunday was a pop-up that had to be set up and torn down by a small group of volunteers starting around 6:00 AM every morning. When Covid happened, UMO had to press pause on its partnerships with outside organizations–and that included The Bridge Church.
Having to find a new place to meet felt like a punch of defeat. How could they come so far just to be shut down now? With two weeks left at the college and no place to go thereafter, Andrew felt God say in his spirit: “we’re not done”. He made the need for a location known to the people of The Bridge Mount Olive and asked everyone to pray and put out feelers in the community.
From those prayers and conversations came the opportunity to rent the Dudley Christian Disciples of Christ Church’s fellowship hall on Sundays. In less than a year of partnership together, Dudley Christian reevaluated the lease agreement and opened up more opportunities for The Bridge Church Mount Olive to access the property and grow in its ministry. The primarily older congregation at Dudley Christian said they were blessed by the sound of the children everywhere.
We feel like neighbors, but we want to feel like family.
Leadership of Dudley Christian Disciples of Christ Church
The desire to grow together as a family led the two churches to have their first combined service on November 7, 2021. They look forward to more growth and collaboration in the future.
The Bridge is not just a place I go, it is a people with whom my family can pursue Christ.
Ronnie Wise, Congregational Life Director
Where They Are Headed
The Bridge Church Mount Olive has an exciting future ahead of them. Celebrating 5 years in the community in October 2021, they plan to be here for many more years to come. Over the next months and years, they plan to invest strategically in growing their ministries to kids and students as well as outreaches into the community and UMO.
For more information about The Bridge Church Mount Olive, check out their Instagram, Facebook, and website. You are also welcome to join them for Sunday morning services at 10:00 AM here.