The Rev. Robert L. Ramsey has dedicated three decades to leading the congregation at Gospel Water Branch Baptist Church.
Ramsey and his wife Joyce have served the church on Furys Ferry Road in Evans since he was named pastor in August 1982.
“It’s a blessing,” Ramsey said of his 30-year tenure. “It’s a great blessing.”
The Ramseys will be honored during a 2:30 p.m. service today at Gospel Water Branch with a sermon by the Rev. Gregory Fuller, of Macedonia Baptist Church. The public is invited.
The soft-spoken pastor with the deep voice takes the responsibility of leading the 700-member congregation seriously. It turns Ramsey into an exuberant preacher when he takes the pulpit each Sunday.
“He’s real quiet, humble,” his wife said. “When he stands before God and his congregation, he lets it out.”
Ramsey said he always heard the calling to serve the church but never wanted to preach. As a teenager, he began serving as a youth minister, Sunday school teacher and choir director, among other positions.
It soon became clear, Ramsey said, exactly what the Lord wanted from him.
“I wanted to do bargaining but I didn’t want to preach. I didn’t want to pastor,” Ramsey said. “But this is something he made clear to me. If I’m going to reveal His purpose for my life, that (preaching) is it.”
During that time, the Thomson native said he survived a violent storm that overturned the mobile home he was in.
“I got to the point where the Lord said, ‘This is it. Either preach and live or not preach and die,’” Ramsey said. “He spared my life, so I realized then, I need to go and preach.”
Ramsey began preaching at Smith Grove Baptist Church in Appling in 1979. He also served at Jones Grove and Poplar Spring Baptist churches in Thomson.
At age 27, Ramsey took over as pastor of Gospel Water Branch. The ninth pastor of the church, Ramsey, 57, said he hopes to retain the position longer than 42 years – the current Gospel Water Branch record.
“My aspiration and my desire is to become the longest (serving pastor),” Ramsey said. “I’ve got 13 more years to go.”
As leaders of the church, the couple has seen a lot of changes. The church grew from 100 to about 700 members in those 30 years. A new sanctuary was built in 1990, followed by a fellowship hall and educational building in 1999.
During his tenure, numerous new programs and ministries were established including the Summer Enrichment Program, the Christian Youth Leadership program and an elderly care ministry.
Of all his duties and responsibilities as pastor, Ramsey said it is helping individuals, guiding people, couples or families, that he enjoys the most.
“My passion is counseling,” Ramsey said. “I try to help people with any problem they have in their life.”
Ramsey said he’s happy the church is growing but worries the growth will prevent him from keeping personal contact with much of the congregation.
“I prefer dealing with people directly,” Ramsey said. “That’s why after the service, I go and personally shake their (congregation member’s) hands, give them a hug and a word of encouragement.”
The advantage of being at the same church for a long time, Ramsey said, is he gets to be a part of people’s lives. He’s married and baptized generations and likes becoming part of family traditions.
Ramsey said serving 30 years doesn’t prove he’s a good preacher, but that he has strong faith.
“It proves I know how to depend on the Lord,” Ramsey said. “That’s basically how you do it, depend on Him and trust Him.”