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Niles leaves civil service to save souls

POSTED: August 21, 2008 5:01 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Adrian Niles, who currently is head of Gainesville's Public Works department, will end his 25-year career with the city next week. He will become a full-time minister, a vocation he has pursued part time.

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Preaching from Psalm 130 two weeks ago, Rev. Adrian Niles addressed the chapter’s sixth verse.

In that verse, the speaker says he waits for God more than the night watchmen wait for the sun — a shining signal of the end of their shifts.

"So much of life is shifts that we’re in," Niles, Gainesville’s director of Public Works, explained to the congregation at Mount Enon Baptist Church on Aug. 3. "When morning comes, your shift will be over."

In 25 years and eight months, Niles has worked a number of different shifts for the city, serving as policeman, firefighter, superintendent of the Solid Waste division and ultimately, Public Works director.

On Friday afternoon, Niles’ morning will come. His shift with the city will end. But Niles will clock in for another shift, serving as the full-time pastor of Mount Enon in Monroe.

It is the shift Niles said he has been working toward for years.

Niles said that at the young age of 13, he knew he was driven to ministry, but did not respond to the calling until he was about 21.

"It was just, you know, such a burning desire that that was as long as I could go without responding to it," Niles said.

He preached his first sermon, reading from the 23rd Psalm, at Antioch Baptist Church on Mill Street. As nervous as he was that day, Niles said he knew he belonged in the ministry.

Until this year when he was offered the opportunity to preach full-time at Mount Enon, Niles followed various opportunities in the city that allowed him to preach part time for more than 13 years.

"God kept me pretty busy," Niles said.

As one position would begin to conflict with his ministry, another opportunity would always become available within another city department, Niles said.

"It’s been amazing the different steps, how they opened up and what they afforded me to do with the ministry," Niles said. "It’s been strange.

"Each time that I’ve moved (to a different department), I believe that it’s had some divine ordination in it," Niles said.

Those who have worked with Niles during the past 25 years say that he has always been dedicated to serving others and giving back to his community.

Long before Niles worked with Fire Marshal Jerome Yarbrough in the city’s fire department, the two of them played in the streets together and attended the same schools.

Yarbrough said Niles stood out even at a young age, and was usually the one to steer the other children in the right direction.

Yarbrough admits that he was a more mischievous child than Niles, who "was always the one to say ‘hey, we shouldn’t do that,’" Yarbrough said.

"I guess Adrian’s been ministering since we were kids."

In his early days as a public servant, Niles worked as a probation officer and then as a patrolman for the Gainesville Police Department.

Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper said he remembers Niles’ first days with the city in the 1980s.

Hooper, who was then a patrolman himself, said that it was Niles’ desire to serve his hometown community that made him a good police officer.

"He had a very strong sense of community... he genuinely had an interest in the betterment of the community," Hooper said.

It was during his time at the police department that Niles said he was actually called into the Christian ministry.

And just as his patrol schedule made it difficult to preach on Sundays and Wednesdays, a position opened at the Gainesville Fire Department."I was able to switch over and meet some spiritual needs that I had as far as time," Niles said.

Niles was skilled at fighting fires, too, Yarbrough said. Niles worked his way up the ranks to senior firefighter, earning the nickname "Rev" by the time Fire Chief Jon Canada started as a rookie firefighter more than 15 years ago.

Canada and Niles worked on the same engine company at Fire Station No. 2.

"He loved giving me a hard time as me being a new recruit, but at the same time, he kind of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes and how things worked," Canada said.

When Niles’ fire department schedule began to conflict with his ministerial duties, another position opened in the city, and he was soon working Monday through Friday as the assistant superintendent of the Solid Waste division of the city’s Public Works department.

As time went on, Niles became the assistant director of Public Works, and was the interim director of the department until two and a half years ago when he became the director.

It was his strong ability to work well with employees, citizens and management that landed Niles in his ultimate position as director, City Manager Bryan Shuler said.

In his two-and-a-half years as director of the department, Niles has watched over the city’s street maintenance, traffic engineering, and the upkeep of city buildings and property as well as the Alta Vista Cemetery and Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.

Now, with a long-awaited opportunity to preach within his reach, Niles will end his shift with the city on Friday, but he is not even close to finished with his life of public service.

Niles is already preparing himself to be a full-time spiritual leader in the Monroe community, attending school board and City Council meetings.

More than 25 years as a civil servant has taught Niles that involvement in a community is an integral part of leading its ministry.

His dedication to the Monroe community should come as no surprise to those who have seen him dedicate more than a quarter century to the Gainesville community.

"I guess he’s just born to be a public servant," Yarbrough said.



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