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This Month in BGAV History: Long Pastorates

Virginia Baptist Mission Board BlogFred Anderson is the executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society as well as the Center for Baptist Heritage & Studies.

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Last month Wilbur Kersey was recognized for his 55th anniversary as pastor of Court Street Baptist Church in Portsmouth. It is a remarkable record of longevity, devotion and ministry. Last year Charles Moore reached the 60th milestone in his pastorate of Warfield Baptist Church in the Concord Association. Both men continue to serve although Charles Moore admitted that “as they say in the country, I am working the short row now.”

Joshua B Hutson standing by pulpit at Pine Street Baptist
Joshua B Hutson standing by pulpit at Pine Street Baptist Church.

Such lengthy pastorates are unusual in our day when it is said that the average Baptist pastorate is about two years; but throughout Virginia Baptist history there have been some long pastorates including E.T. Clark (Wilbur Kersey’s father-in-law) at First, Winchester for 47 years; Andrew Broaddus II at Salem in Caroline, 48 years; Daniel Witt at Sharon in Prince Edward, 45 years; Robert Winfree on a field of churches in Chesterfield had 48 years.

Joshua Brown Hutson served over 45 years as pastor of Pine Street Baptist Church in Richmond. He claimed that his secret was short sermons! They usually were no more than 18 minutes in an age when sermons could go twice that length. In the steamy summer, Hutson kept his sermons to about 11 minutes!

In 1909 after his 36th anniversary, he reflected upon the advantages of serving one congregation for so long. He wrote: “The long pastorate gives opportunity to learn many things in an unforgettable way, being well rubbed in with the stinging liniment of constant reminder. The nomadic pastor may run away, escape the treatment and miss the cure.”

“In a long pastorate, I have learned that mistakes are inevitable. The man who never makes a mistake lives on the moon and has an incurable case of lunacy. I have made mistakes of which I would be ashamed to tell. I wish it were scripture instead of the remark of a sage: ‘No man had ever a defect that was not somewhere made useful to him.’”

“One advantage of a long pastorate is that one learns how to save time. One learns short cuts; he learns the people and saves needless arguments; he learns what is expected and saves unnecessary visits; he learns what is needed and saves many a laborious sermon; he learns what he can do and wastes no time building castles in the air; he learns how to run away from the longwinded brother and the unending sister, and lives to fight some other day.”

“The long pastorate ought to be the more fruitful in saving souls. It is true a church may get into ruts and drowsy beds. But the old pastor should not become old until he goes into the grave.”

“The pastor long in the camp knows the skilled workmen for the building and service of the temple of the Lord. He knows the material, where to find it and how to handle it, and sometimes recognizes wood and hay and stubble, which are wisely rejected. The old pastor knows the history of the family, the wants and ways of the children, and like the keeper of a vineyard, sometimes gathers handpicked fruit which a stranger might not discover.”

“The long and blameless life of the servant of God in a community – and surely every pastor should have a blameless life – is an argument for the truth that no eloquence can equal.”

“The longer the pastor lives with his people, the better he will know them; and the better he knows them, the more he will love them; and the more he loves them, the more they will love him like the church of Smyrna, which was willing to die for the pastor, who had served them for more than four score years; and Polycarp was willing and did die for them.”

J.B. Hutson’s illustration bore references to Polycarp, whose martyrdom occurred in A.D. 155. A commentary adds: “The city [of Smyrna] and its Christianity have survived all attacks.” What a testimony to the value of a lengthy pastorate!