You Had Me From "Hello"

The visit by a group of friends from my Henderson, NC pastorate over the weekend was such a delight and encouragement. We spent lots of time Saturday night reminiscing and laughing over old times that were not forgotten. Then on Sunday morning the 4 couples came to church in their rented van to worship with us and to hear me preach. One of them, Danny, had been on the pulpit committee that called me to that church 43 years earlier.

Yes--I'm not just retiring from my ministry at First Baptist, Alexandria. Sixteen years with you. I am also concluding a pastoral ministry spanning 48 years. My emotions flood at the thought. This is all I've ever done.

It sent me back to my journals again, to refresh my memory on how things all got started in each of my five churches.

I first "supplied" at Worsham Baptist, outside of Farmville, VA, on January 7, 1973. Vander Warner, the pastor of Grove Avenue Baptist, Richmond, the church I was attending as a freshman at VCU, recommended me to them. My sermon that day was How to Get Started Right in 1973—and the text was Philippians 3:13-15 (There are some things to be forgotten, there are some things to be remembered, and there is a prize to be won). In February I was asked to be their "interim" pastor, and I became the official pastor in June of that year.

The church was on an every-other-Sunday schedule when I got there, but we soon changed that to every week. In a year we added regular Sunday night services. Lucky for me, too—for it was into one of those evening services that a pretty Longwood University co-ed wandered two years later, and I fell instantly in love!

After five years there, my new wife and I decided that we needed to be closer to the seminary I was attending in North Carolina. We met with the committee from the New Sandy Creek Baptist Church of Henderson on Thursday night, November 10, 1977. I'm not sure what they thought of me in that first encounter, but they were absolutely swept away by Audrey—all of 21 years of age at the time. I suppose I impressed them sufficiently, because I was invited to preach for them on Sunday, December 4.  The next week they voted unanimously to call me as their pastor, and I started there on January 29, 1978. It would be our shortest pastorate, but we made lasting friendships that continue strong to this day.

I don't know where this came from, but when I was trying to convince Audrey to marry me I promised that I would show her the world (I hadn't seen it yet, either) and that one day we would live in Orlando, Florida. That dream came true in March 1981, when we were contacted by the search team from Dover Shores Baptist Church. My mentor and friend, J C Mitchell, had recommended me.  I preached for them on Sunday, April 26 (A Living Sacrifice from Romans 12:1-2 in the morning service—there were about 400 people present; and How to Break the Grip of Sin in Your Life, from Romans 6:1-4, to a crowd of 300 in the evening.) They voted at 90% to call me and my first Sunday there was June 28. The message that day was Beginning Together from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

Yes—you have heard all of these sermons, too!

We loved every minute that we lived in Florida, but after 8 years felt a strong tug to return to our home state of Virginia. We were contacted by Carroll Yeaman, chairman of the committee at Mount Hermon Church in Danville, in December 1988. I had preached a very successful revival for this church a decade earlier. They had asked me to come then but the timing just wasn't right. "Ask me again in ten years,” I told them. And that's what they did! This time, to a smaller church and a much smaller city, we picked up and moved—now with 5-year-old John Mark completing our family.

They called with a 95% positive vote, and I began on Sunday, May 21. My inaugural sermon was titled: Let's Be A Great Commission Church, from Matthew 28:19-20. Our family put down deep roots in that church and community, and we were content to finish our ministry and live the rest of our lives there. We loved them, they loved us, and the church was flourishing. I really thought that we were there to stay.

Then, on April 14, 2005, Sam Moneyhun called...

Would I consider being the pastor of First Baptist Church of Alexandria? The search committee came to visit in two groups: on April 24 and then another on June 4-5. Audrey fed both a delicious dinner in our home. Well, that settled that. It took a few months of praying, but they ultimately asked to present me to the church, and I agreed.

After a long weekend of meeting with various groups and constituencies, I preached for the church on Sunday, September 11. My message was titled Glimpsing My Heart, from Romans 1:1-16. A thousand people were in attendance.

A vote was taken in both services, and after the second one it was announced that we had been officially "called." It wasn't unanimous, though. 0nly 99.3%. We accepted on the spot and I preached my first sermon as pastor on October 23, First Things First, from 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. I immediately felt "at home" and comfortable in the pulpit, a feeling that has never left me.  A sense that I was exactly where God wanted me to be.

But then, I have had that very same conviction at every step of my journey. Not about every single decision I have made in life—but certainly these big ones. It really does make a difference when you choose to love where God has placed you.

1 Comment

vera reidd - November 17th, 2021 at 1:14pm

So thankful for the time God had you at Mount Hermon.




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