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Two pastors lead Glen Cove Christian Church

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The Rev. Jim Phegley’s retirement last summer, after more than 30 years of leading the Glen Cove Christian Church, marked the end of an era. Under Phegley, the church had enjoyed a period of growth, from a congregation of 32 in 1987 to more than 200 last year. Then Associate Pastor Joe Cortale said that the church had been preparing for Phegley’s retirement for some time, and had decided to replace him with two pastors.

In August, Cortale, 70, and Tommy Lanham, 47, a minister from Kentucky, became co-pastors of the church. The two men hit it off immediately, saying they were kindred spirits, and that both were eager to bring continued growth and modernity to the church. This year they plan to begin a new era of their own, focusing on spiritual growth and community outreach.

“The latter half of 2019 was a time to focus on growing our congregation and coming together,” Cortale said, “so 2020 will be about growing our beliefs.”

Cortale, of Glen Cove, didn’t always seen himself as someone who would devote his life to God. He spent most of his career in sales and marketing, but in 2006, his wife, Laura, had a serious traffic accident. She spent weeks in intensive care, and Joe began to fear that he might lose her. That terrified him, because he didn’t know how he could take care of their three children by himself.

Cortale found solace in prayer. After he asked for mercy and a miracle for his family, he recalled, Laura was released from the hospital, and so began her husband’s new relationship with God. “We made an agreement that if she would pull through, I would serve him,” he explained.

In 2010, Cortale decided to go back to school at Hope International University in California, where he earned a master’s in Christian leadership and ministry. As he was working on the degree, he and his family joined the Glen Cove church. When the associate pastor retired in 2011, Phegley invited Cortale to lunch and asked him to lead the prayer announcements. Although he was nervous at first, Cortale found the task fulfilling, and became the new associate pastor, where he learned from and supported Phegley. Then, when he found out about Phegley’s retirement plans, Cortale was more than happy to step up as one of the new co-pastors.

Before he retired, Phegley set about looking for the other co-pastor himself, and found Tommy Lanham, a fellow alumnus of Johnson University, in Florida. Lanham, a native Kentuckian, said he had always been attracted to the church, ever since he was a child and pretended to give sermons in his living room after church on Sundays. Although he originally focused on the music ministry program at Johnson, he found himself drawn more and more to the courses that focused on preaching and pastoral work. He was especially intrigued by how people could change for the better through sermons.

“I like seeing the transformation people can go through when they find their faith,” Lanham explained. “It’s amazing to watch them grow.” 

Lanham has more than 20 years of ministry experience, as a lead minister, an associate minister and a youth minister. He has a master’s in pastoral counseling and life coaching from Liberty University. In conjunction with his ministry work, he has also helped others with public speaking, and has written a book on the subject. Lanham said he has always had a gift for public speaking, and focuses on energizing his congregation with his sermons.

“I believe preaching a boring sermon is a sin,” he while chuckling.

Lanham and his family enjoyed their lives in rural Keavy, Ky., but his wife, Tammy, said that she sometimes felt a bit isolated in an area where they couldn’t see their closest neighbor’s house. As they looked for an opportunity to move, Tommy found Phegley’s post about an open position on Facebook, and applied for it. Although Lanham had heard all his life how rude New Yorkers were, he said he was glad to find welcoming faces in Glen Cove and a supportive teammate in Cortale.

As the two worked together, Lanham’s talent for preaching impressed Cortale, and they talked about bringing a more contemporary feel to their services, which included bringing them into the digital age. Tammy Lanham, who had worked at the Creek Church, a large, multi-site church in London, Ky., with a stage camera operations team, began posting the Glen Cove church services on Facebook and on the church’s website. The videos now get 800 to 2,000 views a week, she said, and allow people to see what the church has to offer.

“It helps people experience the church in a comfortable setting, like in their homes,” Tammy said, “and it may actually help them take the next step of joining us here.”

Cortale said he believes the videos are doing just that, because he spots a few new faces every week. As the congregation grows, he and Lanham plan to invite more members to join prayer and Bible study groups, which will help them further their understanding of the sermons. They also want to reach out to young families in Glen Cove, as well as those whose religious faith may have faded.

And later this month, Cortale and Lanham plan to present to the congregation a list of 16 goals that the church will strive to achieve this year. Lanham said that they would all support the No. 1 item on the list: enhancing the congregation’s spiritual growth.