Accumulating Riches In Heaven

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From time to time, CBS Correspondent Steve Hartman uses the random toss of a dart and a map of the United States to guide him in his quest to prove that "Everybody Has A Story."

Three years ago, Hartman met a preacher whose flock was in danger of extinction. Through the generosity of viewers, the Charlotte, N.C., congregation now has plenty to be thankful for.

This story originally aired on Sept. 7, 2001.

Sixty-nine year-old Joe Denson is a good-humored, Baptist preacher.

"I'm conservative in lifestyle. I'm conservative financially. And I'm conservative in Christianity," says Denson.

He got his calling in 10th grade. "I didn't want to do anything else, never have," he adds.

Denson graduated from Wake Forest with a degree in religion, got married to his wife, Edith, and together moved into the modest home where they now live happily.

A generous fellow, he wasted no time in offering one of his patented mayonnaise, margarine, banana, cinnamon sandwiches.

"I hope I have more converts to the Lord than I do to the sandwich," he said to Hartman who reached for the sandwich.

For 25 years, Denson has been pastor at the Southview Baptist Church. In most ways, it's like any other church. But there is one aspect of his ministry that sets Denson apart from just about every other Baptist preacher in the state of North Carolina.

"I stopped drawing my salary," he admits.

Denson made the decision last year when his shrinking church, with it's aging congregation, found itself going broke. Ironically, he had thought he was going to retire last year.

"Gotta get that furnace fixed," he said.

But he opted for the ultimate pay cut instead.

"My biggest problem right now is leaving these people without a shepherd. It'll just break me up," he said.

Over the years, he has married their children and buried their spouses. He has visited them in the hospital, once at two in the morning when a frightened Francis Nobles just needed someone to talk to.

"And it's like family. When something happens to them, I feel it," he said.

And because he has grown so close to them, Denson says he's been worrying night and day, trying to find a young pastor willing to replace him. Although he makes no salary, he is confident that someday, on his last day, he will be a very rich man.

Just a few days after that initial broadcast, Denson says a stranger happened by. "And he handed me a folded up piece of paper, and I just stuck it in my pocket and told him if he was ever back, come see us again."

Denson got in his car and got curious. He says, "I reached in my pocket and almost had a wreck going home when I saw that."

It was a check for $15,000.

"We're remodeling the kitchen," he says. The church also got dozens of smaller donations from across America.

Standing in front of people from his congregation, hard at work, Denson notes, "We had such a response that our people began to see somebody thinks we're worth something. And they started taking part in things. We saw a different atmosphere around here."

One thing hasn't changed.

Denson says with a smile, "My salary is the same as it was before. And I pay these people the same thing I make."

Finally, as to his retirement, Denson has been doing some research on that.

He says, "There's nothing in the Bible about retirement. Not a word."