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Gadsden music minister works to ‘keep things fresh’comment (0)

August 13, 2009

By Jeremy Henderson

It’s not that there haven’t been opportunities. Truth be told, there have been plenty of them, some downright attractive. But Rick Willis, minister of music and associate pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Gadsden, since 1984, just never felt it was time to go.

In the heat of the moment, he just never felt that’s what God had in mind for him or his family. So he stayed. And he stayed. And he stayed.

“Sometimes I asked, ‘Lord, are you sure you don’t want me to leave?’” Willis said, laughing, a week before a churchwide tea celebrating, almost to the day, his 25 years of service. The event was held July 12 and included remembrances of him, as well as the presentation of a framed proclamation from the city of Gadsden, signed by the mayor and city clerk, honoring his career. “But I always felt that when the time was right, He’d let me know.”

And so far, He hasn’t.

But Willis, a long-distance runner who regularly participates in marathons, knows a little bit about endurance.

“Anybody that can serve somewhere for 25 years, and we haven’t run him off, well that’s saying a lot in the Baptist world,” said Jean Snow, a longtime Bellevue Baptist member who helped organize the tea.

Snow, who raves about Willis’ creativity, thinks he shows no signs of slowing down.

“He’d be miserable if he retired,” she said.

Tena Wright, president of the choir at the Etowah Baptist Association church, agreed. “I tell people all the time that the thing that stands out to me about Brother Rick is that he’s been there 25 years and you would think after that, you’d sort of lose your enthusiasm,” Wright said. “But he has never lost it. I don’t want to say he’s like a kid, but he always has that excitement. He’s just always so bubbly and energetic for something new to do, whether it’s drama or music.”

One of Willis’ creative contributions, an annual “Living Lord” Easter pageant that at one time, involved 175 people, has become a Bellevue trademark.

“He started that when he first came here,” Wright said. “We did it 20 or 21 years in a row, and then we skipped a year or two. That was a huge undertaking. It was just always a tremendous blessing.”

Willis said the pageant is well-known and respected throughout the community and beyond, both for its production value and the power of its message. “The first year we didn’t do (it), we had several people say, ‘I can’t believe y’all aren’t doing the pageant,’” he said, adding, “it just kind of became a ministry to me and to most of our people. It wasn’t about having the best or slickest pageant; it was just a way to praise the living Lord.”

Willis said he still hears from people who have been moved by the pageant.

“Drama has always been a big part of my ministry,” Willis said. “The Bible is so easy to dramatize because there’s just so much drama in there.”

According to him, the same, in a certain sense — in a good sense, can be said of his time at Bellevue.

“Well, when you stay in a place that long, you realize the Lord is constantly changing things and people are constantly moving,” he said. “You can’t ever just get comfortable with where you are because it’s going to be different five years from now, and you have to ask God to help you keep things as fresh as you can. You have to know the congregation, know your people, and just love them and do your best.”

Willis knows of what he speaks.

“He has really helped raise two generations of our people,” Snow said, adding that Willis gets “so embarrassed when we talk about [everything he’s done] but he deserves it. He really does.”

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