The congregation and staff of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez will honor their pastor for his 25 years of service as their spiritual leader next month.
The Rev. William F. "Bill" Harrell, 64, preached his first sermon at Abilene Baptist on Jan. 18, 1981. He said he didn't know how long he would minister at Abilene, but as the anniversaries went by, his family's bond with the congregation grew stronger.
"You become part of the fiber of the church, especially after being here for so long," Harrell said. "There is a certain distinction and respect and devotion people give you because you have been here so long. Not a devotion to you, but to your ministry."
"We're honoring him for 25 successful years of ministry at Abilene and his influence well beyond the CSRA to the national level," said the Rev. David Miller, the minister of education and administration at Abilene Baptist. Harrell also is the vice chairman of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
During Harrell's tenure, the church's membership has grown from about 935 to more than 2,650, and his sermons have been broadcast on television to most of Georgia and much of South Carolina since 1987.
During the four-day celebration beginning Jan. 15, Harrell will be honored by the Revs. Jerry Falwell, Jerry Vines of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., and Robert White, the executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
Harrell said his proudest moments at Abilene were baptizing his two youngest daughters at the church.
After 25 years at Abilene, Harrell said he is proud to now perform the weddings of children he baptized after they were born and raised in the church.
"It has been the greatest privilege of my life to be a pastor," Harrell said. "It hasn't been easy, but God never said it would be. It has been rewarding to see the fruits of my ministry in the lives of other people."
Harrell said he could not have accomplished what he has in his career without the support of his wife Carolyn and three loving daughters.
"Every man needs a good, solid woman to keep his head on straight," he said.
"When we were married we decided we would be the support for each other," Carolyn said. "We've been married for 43 years (and) in the ministry you really have to support each other.
"I certainly enjoyed raising my children in this church because they have been very supportive of our family," she said. "I can't think of a better place to have raised my children."
"I think the Lord led me extremely well," Harrell said. "I am fortunate enough to have followed Him and not gotten off on a tangent."
He said he felt the call to go into ministry at age 14 during a revival service at Northside Baptist Church in Tifton, Ga. He said he was not prepared to enter seminary school until age 31.
"God speaks to your heart in a way you can't explain," Harrell said. "And life from that moment on is not the same."
Harrell earned his master's of theological studies degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Wake Forest, N.C., in 1973.
He began his career in ministry at Burnell Baptist Church in Four Oaks, N.C., after seminary school in 1973. After two years at Burnell, he served as associate pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cartersville for two years. He moved to First Baptist Church of Metter, Ga., before coming to Abilene.
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