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Gainesville man turns retirement into seminary
Bob and Susan Abernathy at a recent celebration for Bob’s graduation from seminary. - photo by Tom Reed

It took many hours of quiet, reflective time during early retirement for the Rev. Bob Abernathy to discover what he should be doing with his golden years.

In those quiet moments he kept hearing the call to spread God’s word through ministry. So about five years ago, Abernathy decided to go to seminary and become a pastor.

"I considered going to seminary in 1998 but decided to do commissioned lay pastoring because the requirements are less," said Abernathy, a member at First Presbyterian in Gainesville. "There are certain things you can’t do, but by and large, you could do most of the things I wanted to do."

He added that at the time he thought he was too old to go to seminary. But with lots of encouragement from the church and from friends, Abernathy, 67, graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur with a master of divinity degree. Friends and family celebrated with Bob and Susan Abernathy with a reception on May 22 at the clubhouse in Harbor Pointe.

"Retirement gave me time to think, really think," he said. "That requires dedication, and you have to be deliberate, you have to figure out what’s really important."

As a child and in early adulthood, Abernathy was spiritually connected to the church, but for more than 20 years of his adult life, church was the furthest thing from his mind. He had even considered seminary years ago.

"There was a long period of unhappiness there," said Abernathy, who didn’t even attend church for more than 20 years.

Eventually he and wife, Susan, began attending Peachtree Presbyterian, and Bob joined the Stephen Ministry and became a hospital chaplain.

Even though Bob was excited about attending seminary at the start, he was a little concerned about the age difference between himself and the other students.

"That didn’t last long at all," he said. "This last term I would be sitting there (in class) and looking around and thinking ‘I’m so blessed to be here.’"

But associate pastor the Rev. Paul Evans at First Presbyterian said he reminded Abernathy that "God has great things for us all through our lives."

"I like to remind Bob that Moses received his call at 80 years old," Evans said. "For many years (Bob) had his ear tuned to God ... when he came up here (Gainesville) it was obvious where his heart was and we encouraged him to go to a weekend event at Columbia Seminary."

After that weekend event at Columbia, Abernathy decided quickly that he would attend.

During his five years in seminary, he was able to spend time in Cambridge and did a 10-week internship at Culdee Presbyterian Church with the Rev. Chris Bobo in West End, N.C.

Abernathy said without Bobo helping him with sermon writing and forcing him to prepare five sermons during his time at Culdee, he wouldn’t be the pastor he is today.

Next up for Abernathy is to start working in the ministry, which he already has a few ideas.

"When I started, what I thought I would do is be a hospital chaplain and I was familiar with that," he said. "The thing that appeals to me is a time when people, in that moment, are scared and would just like to have someone to talk to. Sometimes you are right in the middle of a drama and it’s a difficult thing. But you can be there to help someone, even if it’s just to listen and pray with you."

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