Growing up in New Jersey, Michael Davis ’80 was 16 when a friend died in a car crash. Several other friends were getting into trouble. Concerned about his life path, Davis began to study the Bible and attend church, where a trusted Sunday School teacher advised him to find a college with good campus ministry programs. “I had always heard the South was called the ‘Bible Belt,’ so I decided to come to North Carolina. Finding a medium-sized school with campus ministry programs was first and foremost in my mind when I enrolled at Western,” he said.
Four decades later, Davis is the senior pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church in Charlotte. The all-white congregation of the 69-year-old church credits their African-American pastor with bringing renewed excitement to services and encouraging visitors to attend. Race hasn’t been an issue. “It just never comes up that I’m black,” Davis said. Sermons reflect his extensive knowledge of the Bible, which he has read and re-read countless times. “I found that teaching the books of the Bible covers the total person, how to live and how to pattern our lives. Every topic is covered there,” he said.
At WCU, Davis always carried a Bible to classes. Being from the North, he felt he didn’t fit in at first. During his sophomore year, he met Don Good ’78, a like-minded student from Tennessee, now a professor at East Tennessee State University. Good welcomed Davis to a campus student group, “Peace One Way,” that later became affiliated with a national ministry for students, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. On a trip to an ICF conference, Davis felt called to the ministry.
Through the years, he provided support to various ministers and church groups while living and working in Gastonia and Raleigh. After becoming an ordained missionary for the Child Evangelism Fellowship and moving to Charlotte, he organized Bible clubs for children and served as teacher. He was so admired by members of the Woodlawn congregation, who met him through the children’s clubs, that he was invited to serve in an interim position when the church’s pastor retired. In 2015, the congregation voted overwhelmingly to hire him full time. At Woodlawn, Davis serves with WCU alumna Jacquelyn Culpepper ’79, the church’s minister of music.