Dr. Bill Coates, the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church of Gainesville, announced his retirement from the pulpit Sunday, Aug. 5, saying his last sermon would be Aug. 19.
Citing numerous reasons for the decision, Coates said he’d struggled for more than a year with the question of his retirement, but that he felt the time was right.
“I’ve allowed myself to become depleted and distracted in focus, so it is good and it is right for you and for me that I begin my retirement,” Coates told the congregation.
Coates said he needed to spend more time with his family, including his mother, who he said was in declining health. But he also cited a need for changes in the church that required fresh leadership, “to become more welcoming for young adults and young families, and I know in my heart that this will require more spirit than I have left to give.”
Coates said he was happy with innovations already implemented in the church’s approach to ministry, but he also implored the church to become more welcoming to gay and lesbian members and said he looked forward to seeing additional changes “as a member sitting in the pew of this congregation.”
Coates also said many deaths of close friends in the church and an ongoing lawsuit against the church had taken “an enormous toll” on him and that many days he felt like he was “more of an attorney than I am a pastor.”
The lawsuit stems from allegations of abuse by a former Boy Scout leader in a troop sponsored by the church decades before Coates' arrival.
Coates was ordained in 1974 and became the pastor of First Baptist in 1998. He said he was the 35th pastor since the church was founded in 1830.
Coates told members “you are gifts of God to me and to my family,” and asked the congregation to remember him for his best works and to never forget “to love God with all that you are.”
Coates requested that both services on Aug. 19 be combined into one at 10 a.m. that ended with communion and a meal of Johnny’s Barbecue.
It is unclear who the new pastor will be.