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Retired North Charleston clergy couple find creative outlets in needlepoint and trains

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The hustle and bustle of ministry can be overwhelming for clergy families at times. 

Tending to sick parishioners, taking late night phone calls, preparing sermons and leading church meetings consumes most of a pastor's time and leaves little room for much else. It's what makes being a pastor different from an ordinary job with standard 9-to-5 work hours.

There's also the emotional burden that comes with helping people trek through grief, spiritual anxiety and other difficulties.

Now, a North Charleston couple is enjoying what life is like after decades of answering God's call to serve congregations across the country. 

Sort of. 

Retired Pastor Jim Pierce, 76, still gets requests to preach and play music for the church he and his wife attend. But for the most part, he and his wife, Linda, 73, are spending their golden years doing what they enjoy most: collecting trains and needlepoint.

Jim and Linda Pierce

Linda Pierce works on a new needlepoint project Tuesday, September 8, 2020. Her and husband Jim are proud of their needlepoint Charleston buildings. Jim worked up the plans from photos superimposed on the mesh and added wood where needed. Linda selected the yarn, determined the number of plies and then did the stitches. Brad Nettles/Staff

These are different hobbies from those of their retired friends who engage in more widely practiced activities, such as reading books, said Linda Pierce. The two, finding joy in their crafts after years of serving others, offer a glimpse into how couples can work together to accomplish neat projects. 

"It's a creative outlet," said Jim Pierce. "Without an outlet for creativity, life could get boring."

The Pierces' life together has been anything but mundane. Their 54-year-union has produced two children and numerous trips to countries in North America, Europe and elsewhere. 

But travel was limited to ministry-related endeavors for much of their marriage. After graduating seminary in the early 1970s, Jim began what would become a more than 30-year career in leading congregations in Minnesota, New Jersey and North Carolina. 

Also an organist, Jim has played music for churches.

He retired in 2006 when the couple moved to North Charleston and began attending a Lutheran church in Summerville. 

That's when he delved into a childhood pastime of collecting trains. His passion is evident almost as soon as one enters the couple's home, where a dining room was transformed into a hub for small transit stations. 

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Fourteen years of work has resulted into a miniature network of stations made from cardboard, plastic and other items, and containing about six small locomotive trains. The depot, made from scratch, ranges from widely known stops in large metropolitan areas, such as Grand Central Terminal in New York, to smaller stations, such as one that mirrors the rural area where Jim first served as pastor. 

For Linda, needlepoint has been a constant practice for 40 years.

Her earlier works include embroidery worked over canvasses that made up a Christmas village.

In recent years, she's created items mirroring historic Charleston buildings, such as those at Rainbow Row, Hampton Plantation, First (Scots) Presbyterian and Central Fire Station, which is Linda's favorite because of the features of the building and the stitching and trim the project required.

"Just the complexity of the thing," she said.

The fruits of her labor are shown throughout the couple's home. Needlepoint buildings are used as door stops, door hangers and wall art in their home.

Her current project will be of a building in Quebec, Canada. She said the projects are inspired by the places she's traveled with her husband. 

Jim and Linda Pierce

Retired pastor Jim Pierce and his wife, Linda, are proud of their needlepoint Charleston buildings including the house at Magnolia Plantation. Jim worked up the plans from photos superimposed on the mesh and added wood where needed. Linda selected the yarn, determined the number of plies and then did the stitches. Brad Nettles/Staff

The most challenging part is getting the needlepoint projects to look as identical to the pictures as possible, she said.

Jim's retirement has enabled him to help. The needlepoint process begins when Jim takes a photo of a structure, after which he lays a grid over the paper and then creates graph paper. Linda selects the yarn and does the stitching, which can take four months.

The two know the importance of having a hobby while engaging in critical work. They know some pastors who, at 74, are still working full time. 

"You get burned out," Jim said.

Religious leaders are known to creatively use their hobbies and other life happenings as metaphoric illustrations to teach themselves and other spiritual lessons.

But the clergy couple makes no attempt to use their favorite pastimes to teach any divine revelation. They simply enjoy having the free time to do what they love.

Reach Rickey Dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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