With cards, humor and speeches, Lakewood Baptist Church members showed their gratitude Sunday to Tom Smiley for 20 years as senior pastor of the church off Thompson Bridge Road.
Sammy Smith handed the pastor a basket filled with cards and other assorted notes and letters as part of 20-minute presentations at the church's two morning services.
Others spoke, including newly elected state Sen. Butch Miller, who presented a proclamation from the state House of Representatives honoring Smiley. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, worked to get the proclamation passed, Miller said.
"Twenty or so years ago ... in the old church, this pastoral search committee was looking for a pastor and they asked for prayer and discernment from the congregation," Miller said.
"And apparently, the prayer worked. Tom, you have been a blessing to us from the first day. We are very grateful to have you."
The five-member committee that recommended Smiley as pastor also took the stage with Smiley.
The congregation also heard a videotaped message from his son, Tyler, who is attending Denver Theological Seminary in Colorado.
"Dad, I just wanted to take a minute and say congratulations on 20 years," he said. "Twenty years at the same church is quite an accomplishment. ... Lakewood will always hold a special, special place in our hearts."
Smiley, 52, arrived at Lakewood from Cool Springs Baptist Church in Tate, where he had served as pastor for five years. The Atlanta native has served in other church positions since 1977, becoming an ordained minister in October 1979.
The church was founded in April 1956, growing from 175 families to more than 2,500.
Smiley also was greeted by three "cousins" - members Richard Higgins, Rusty Hopkins and Brian Rochester - dressed in overalls and speaking in thick Southern drawls.
"We just come to help you celebrate 20 years of drawing a steady paycheck," said one of cousins, drawing laughter from the large audience.
After the presentations were finished, Smiley told the congregation, "I want to thank you for the opportunity you've given me to serve at this great church. I never intended to stay this long - I didn't know how long I'd stay."
He added, "I'm going to pledge my continued support to you."