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Following the path in front of him

Robert Hart didn't believe he was ready to lead a church congregation two years ago, but he didn't feel like he had much choice, either. That was the path that was laid out before him.

Hart was the assistant pastor at a church at the time. The pastor quit suddenly and took the church's name with her. When she did, other members of the small congregation looked to Hart to do something.

"What I did is I prayed, and the Lord took me in a new direction," said Hart, who ran his True Vine Fellowship Ministries from the Apple Valley Community Center before moving it to a Farmington storefront in September. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me. To be honest with you, I wasn't ready. At least I didn't feel like I was ready."

Hart started small. In the early days the new church wasn't much more than him and his family. Members have come and gone in the months since. There are currently about 25 people who attend on a regular basis.

It's a diverse group. There are members from many ethnic and religious backgrounds at the non-denominational church. Hart said his no-nonsense approach to preaching -- perhaps a remnant of the 11 years he spent as an Army Ranger -- is attractive to people.

"We teach the truth," Hart said. "I don't sugarcoat anything. I just teach it the way it is. I just teach the God-given truth.... It's not a typical sermon that you hear all the time."

Hart's own path to the pulpit wasn't exactly traditional. He was raised in the church and attended a seminary prep school, but he never planned to be a pastor. It took a hardship, he said, to make him turn fully to God.

That happened in 2001. Hart was working for an armored car company in Chicago and going through a divorce that he said cost him everything -- his children, his relationship and his financial good standing. He remembers sitting in the corner of his company's locker room and finally deciding he couldn't handle it all on his own.

"I just threw up my hands and surrendered," he said. "I'm a firm believer that there are a lot of people who don't turn to God until they go through something."

That was Hart. He started attending a new church, and over the years he grew into a leadership role. He said he's simply taken the opportunities God has put in front of him and made of them what he could.

The road hasn't always been smooth. Members have come and gone since Hart launched True Vine in December of 2007. But he believes people come when they're meant to come and leave when they're meant to leave.

Overall, he's satisfied with the way things have gone. He's especially happy the church has its own space now. When it was in Apple Valley services couldn't start until 12:30 on Sundays because the community center didn't open until noon. Now, services start at 11 a.m. on Sundays with Sunday school at 9:30.

Hart has plans for the future, too. He wants the church to get involved in the community, and he's already started an outreach at downtown Farmington's Spruce Place senior apartments. Church members go to the apartments to serve meals, spend time with residents and conduct Bible study.

It's all part of the church's motto -- recruit, train and send to the field.

Hart has more in mind, too.

"I've been living in Farmington almost a year. I've seen a lot of the youth, they don't have anyplace to go," Hart said. "I'm thinking if we can get together and we can come up with a contingent plan to try to do something for our youth, then our youth will have something to do and they will stay out of trouble."

Ready or not, Hart looks forward to whatever comes next.