Ramsey | In many parts of Illinois, there are pastors who have stayed in their churches for 15, maybe 20 years. And some longer than that, like maybe 25. But few have stayed 60 years.
Edmund Hill, age 88, has been the pastor of Bayle City Baptist Church since 1963, more than 60 years now. He was recognized at the annual meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association last fall.
IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams asked the crowd if they could remember a few things that were around in 1963. He said the computer mouse had not yet been invented. Instant coffee was brought on the market about that time. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. And the population of the world has almost doubled since then. All through this, Edmund Hill has been serving Bayle City.
Pastor Hill said he was attending church with his parents as a 28-year-old when an older pastor stopped by his home church in Ramsey. He asked Hill if he would be interested in preaching at the Bayle City church. Hill agreed.
“I thought I might be there a few months,” Hill said. But 60 years later, he’s still serving there and his congregation loves him. He’s baptized generations of people—sometimes children, their parents, and their grandparents.
Bayle City is a rural community of about 50 people outside Ramsey in south central Illinois. The Baptist church is the only church around.
Joe Lawson, associational mission strategist for Rehoboth Association said, “Edmund is persistent and tenacious” as a bivocational pastor. “There have been ups and downs as he has pastored but he has never wavered from God’s call.”
Lawson remarked, “Edmund is an evangelist. He shares his faith regularly.”
Bayle City church has never been large, maybe 40-50 attenders in 1963. Now they have about 20 people. There is a mix of ages, from middle-aged to seniors, and on Wednesday evenings they have 15 teenagers and some children who come for student ministry.
Pastor Hill told a couple of stories about people God laid on his heart. One man was coming to visit him from the community of Pana. He sat down with Hill in his basement and accepted Christ.
Another man, named Bob, mowed the church yard. Hill felt the Lord leading him to go share Jesus with this 91-year-old man. Four evenings later Bob prayed to receive Christ. Four days after that he passed into eternity.
“I hope you see the heart of a man who pastors a church for 60 years,” Adams told the annual meeting participants. “I hope, in addition to pursuing church health, it gives some hope to you as well.”
Hill’s wife, Genevieve, has been a partner in the ministry. She encourages the Bayle City members and helps Hill with church arrangements.
Asked for advice, Hill said “I never intended to preach.” He was a farmer and heavy equipment operator most of his life, along with his bivocational ministry. “But God has a way of convincing us what he wants us to do.”
“I am not for change for change’s sake,” Hill said. “Don’t think of it as ‘Well, I will pastor here for a while and another church will come along.’ The best thing a pastor can do is visit the lost. It’s hard to beat an individual visit.”
Why did he stay 60 years?
“When I went there, I went from Sunday to Sunday and finally just became the pastor,” Hill said. “Other churches contacted me (to preach) but I saw no reason to move. I became attached to the church. I’m happy there. I just didn’t see the need to move.”
IBSA Associate Executive Director Mark Emerson said, “The turnover rate among pastors of churches continues to increase. Zone consultant reports show an average of 10% of IBSA churches (around ninety) are currently seeking a pastor.” He noted that longer tenure of a pastor, like Pastor Hill, helps the church and the pastor as they determine to do ministry together.
Emerson said for the first few years there is a honeymoon period. That ends and trust is built up until after the fifth year. At that time there is a need to “reinvent” oneself as pastor. New ministries and initiatives must be started to maintain vitality. This needs to occur every 7-10 years throughout the pastor’s tenure.
Lawson said he would encourage pastors to see that “long tenure is effective tenure.” When a pastor stays around a while, he gets to baptize generations of people. Projects get completed, he said, and the pastor sees the fruits of his evangelism. “Don’t go three years and out, or five years and out,” Lawson urged.
Edmund Hill is still on the job, for as long as the Lord allows. And after 60 years, he remains determined to do his best.
Richard Nations is Associational Missions Strategist for Sandy Creek Baptist Association.