Pastor's retirement ends family's 60-year ministry at Utah church
Bluffdale • This is the story of the man who sits in the chair that rests in the foyer that graces the house that Ken built.
That house is a house of worship, Midvalley Bible Church, and that man is a man of God, retiring Pastor Ken Hornok.
Days away from delivering his final sermon, Hornok, 68, reflected on a life that took him from Illinois to Utah to Washington, D.C., to Texas and back to the Beehive State and on a ministry that saw him inherit the congregation his father had founded in Murray 60 years ago and move it, grow it, lead it and inspire it for nearly four decades.
Yes, it's been quite a journey, one that began with Ken Hornok's birth in Chicago.
As a young boy, he suffered from severe ear infections. A doctor told his father, John Hornok, who was attending Chicago's Moody Bible Institute, that his son needed to live in a dry climate and suggested the family move to Denver, Phoenix or Salt Lake City.
The elder Hornok selected Utah and with little more than a prayer held the first service of what was then the Murray Bible Church on Sept. 13, 1953, on the second floor of the Murray Fire Hall. Seven Hornok family members and a few members of the Bethel Baptist Church attended.
The church kept moving as it grew, meeting at the Fraternal Order of Eagles building and then the Murray Youth Center, a frigid, warehouselike building that was nearly impossible to heat. Finally, in 1955, the church bought the old Christ Lutheran Church at 171 E. 4800 South.
Ken Hornok left Utah in the 1960s to attend Washington Bible College six blocks from the White House. There, he met his wife, Marcia. After graduating, he went to the Dallas Theological Seminary and began his ministerial career in Fort Worth.
Then came another Utah call.
After leading the Murray Bible Church for 21 years, John Hornok decided it was time to retire. He chose Ken one of five sons, all of whom would become ministers to succeed him.
So Ken Hornok, with his young son and an eight-months-pregnant wife, left Texas and the South to take over an independent Bible church in a much more difficult place: Mormon-dominated Utah.
As 51 people watched, the younger Hornok was installed Nov. 4, 1974, at the same service where the congregation bid farewell to John, who died in 2008 at age 86.
"It was an interesting transition to come and replace my father," Ken recalled. "My father was a strong, pioneer-type personality. â¦ I am a builder, a maintenance-type of an individual. It was just challenging."
The church moved to Midvale, where the congregation bought an old Mormon meetinghouse. Hornok changed the name to Midvalley Bible Church. Years later, the congregation needed an even bigger building and sold that property. While raising funds, the church held services in a closed furniture store, Murray Park, Midvale Park and a mortuary.
Finally, on March 17, 2007, Hornok held the first meeting at the church's current home, a state-of-the-art building at 13985 S. 2700 West in Bluffdale that serves about 175 worshippers.
Not only did he build up the church spiritually, but he helped build it physically as well. Hornok painted the interior and served as the acting contractor for the wings containing six classrooms, the fellowship hall and kitchen.
"This is my life," Hornok said four days before he was to deliver his final Sunday sermon.
He confessed that it's not easy to leave a nearly 60-year ministry started by his dad.
"Since I have made the decision, I have felt emotions I did not think I would feel," said the veteran minister, a father of three sons and three daughters.
"After September 1 comes, where do I go from here?" he wondered. "That's a real sense I don't have locked in. But my philosophy on this is that God will close a door behind me before he will open a door in front of me."
Bible churches typically turn to a "transitional pastor" when replacing a longtime minister. That helps ease the way for a new preacher, who will be selected by the church's search committee.
Of course, following Hornok won't be easy. After decades of sermons and services, he earned a reputation as an excellent Bible instructor.
Those skills, according to longtime member Larry Culberson, are what drew him and his family to Hornok's congregation when they moved to Utah 30 years ago from Memphis.
"He is one of the best Bible teachers in the valley," Culberson said. "He can take a portion of scripture and explain it in detail as far as its context, what it means to other parts of scripture at that point, and being able to apply it to our lives today."
Jim Thatcher, a church member since 1965, called Hornok a spiritual mentor whose clear teaching of the Bible helps him apply lessons taught Sunday in daily life.
Hornok performed the marriage for Thatcher's eldest son, baptized his three sons, officiated at the funeral of his wife's mother and put together a 50th-anniversary celebration for Thatcher and his wife. Thatcher's son Tom, who attended the church, served as a missionary doctor in Nigeria for 19 years alongside his wife, Rosie.
In fact, under the two Hornoks' ministries, 60 congregants have entered Christian service, 56 of them as full-time workers, including 20 foreign missionaries.
"We are going to miss him a lot," said church elder Harry Hoover. "He has been a good personal friend and has been a great teacher and pastor for the 30 years I have been there."
Marcia Hornok has been at her husband's side throughout his career. She watched as Hornok, three of his brothers and a brother-in-law, all ministers, performed the first wedding ceremony at the new building between the couple's daughter Leah and Jon Gingery.
Since Marcia's relatives live in the East, she said church members have been like her family. They helped the Hornoks through their children's surgeries, a house fire and her two bouts with cancer.
"My best memories will probably be about people responding to God through our ministry, like when the children spontaneously applauded because of what God had done after I told them the account of Elijah on Mount Carmel," she said. "Or the elderly woman who heard the gospel for about the 20th time and said, 'Well, I just think everyone ought to believe that. It's so simple!' Or friends who tell me they like the insights in my gift book and want to order copies for their friends. And the sweet 83-year-old who hugs me every Sunday and reminds me she is praying for Ken and me."
Ken Hornok worked hard on his final sermon. He normally preaches from handwritten notes. This time, though, he wrote the entire text because there were certain things he wanted to say.
One of several gifts the grateful congregation gave to its retiring pastor was a table saw, an appropriate symbol for a man who loves to build.
Witness the church he built, led and fed for nearly 40 years.
Midvalley Bible Church
Where • 13985 S. 2700 West, Bluffdale
When • Sunday: Prayer time, 9 a.m.; Sunday School, 9:30 a.m.; worship service, 10:30 a.m.
More information • http://www.midvalleybible.org/