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Column: First Baptist Church has a new pastor, and he’s coming at quite the time
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

I’ve spent all my life in the church. When I was a baby, I was in the Cradle Roll department. I’ve been a Sunbeam, an RA, a Beginner, a Junior, an Intermediate and a Youth. You have to be a Baptist over a certain age to understand that.

I know more hymn numbers in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal than any of the others that followed.

I’ve been in city churches and country churches. I’ve been in churches where the hymns were selected by members of the congregation by calling out a hymn number.

I am a summa cum laude graduate of Vacation Bible School in the era where you marched in and pledged allegiance to the American flag, the Christian flag and the Bible.

I am a Lord-have-mercy graduate of my mama’s hand against my backside when I yelled out in church.

Aside from our belief in Jesus, one of the most common denominators in the Baptist church is a covered dish. Sometimes that was a casserole or a beautiful dessert.

On two occasions I have been in a church that called a new pastor.

In the Baptist church, the bishop does not dispatch a new pastor. That’s because we don’t have a bishop. A committee is appointed and they go through resumes and listen to sermons and pray for God’s guidance in selecting a new preacher.

We believe that person is called. God has told both the committee and the candidate that this is the one. Then, the candidate is brought to the church on a Sunday, where they dust off their best sermon and preach to the congregation. There is usually a vote, but it is more of an endorsement of the committee’s decision.

This is usually before or after the congregation gets to meet the new pastor. This usually involves food.

There is something about a new preacher and a slice of cake or a helping of fresh cobbler that goes hand in hand.

That was before coronavirus.

Our church has been without a pastor for a year and half and the leadership wanted to move ahead with the process.

I know that some of you have met your spouse on the Internet. I didn’t try that. Although my screen name, tall handsome guy 540, would have surely made me appealing.

We decide who is the most talented entertainer on the internet, so why can’t you hire a new preacher online? We did.

The Rev. Jeremy Shoulta came to the church and preached on camera to nine people in the sanctuary and hundreds more watching online and listening on the radio.

That’s got to be tough. That’s not even enough people in person for one of them to fall asleep without anyone noticing.

After the sermon, we voted online to call the Rev. Shoulta to be the pastor of First Baptist Church. I haven’t met him yet or offered him a piece of cake or a slice of pie.

I have communicated with him by email and am looking forward to meeting him in person.

He preached a fine sermon about the current situation. He used the scripture in Ezekiel, where it talks about being in the valley of dry bones.

The new pastor, his wife and two daughters will be coming to Gainesville in April. It may be some time before he gets to preach to a live audience.

I hope that we will have a nice social to welcome the Shoultas to Gainesville. That’s how you’ll know the pandemic is over. You’ll step outside and smell the aroma of freshly prepared desserts.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on