90-year-old associate pastor still going strongcomment (0)
April 21, 2011
By John Evans
Earl Hall has been serving in vocational ministry longer than many people even live. But as the 90-year-old associate pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, Montgomery, reflects on his 73 years of service, he says it was not a path he ever imagined.
Hall, a Birmingham native, was a 17-year-old employee of Bell South Telephone Company (now AT&T) in Birmingham in 1938; he thought that would be his lifelong career. That changed suddenly.
“I was attending an assembly at Shocco Springs (Baptist Conference Center in Talladega), and during one of the services there, the man who was doing the speaking said, ‘I just got the feeling there’s somebody here that’s being called to ministry,’ and all of a sudden, it just sounded like a voice speaking to me saying, ‘Earl, that’s you,’” Hall recalled.
He shared his new calling with his home church, Mount Calvary Baptist, Tarrant, where his father was pastor. Hall was ordained into the ministry several months later and began serving as the church’s associate pastor.
“It was a great sense of satisfaction, because I just had a real deep feeling that’s what the Lord wanted me to do,” he said.
For more than five years, Hall preached every other Sunday night, learning from his father how to minister. He also met his wife, Ethel, whom he married in 1941.
Afterward Hall began to serve his own churches (sometimes preaching at two different churches on alternating Sundays) while still working for the telephone company. But he felt that to continue in the ministry, he needed to complete his education. He graduated from Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham and left the phone company to concentrate on full-time ministry.
“It was a great relief to realize I didn’t have something over here that was trying to pull me away (from ministry) and I could give my full time to it,” Hall said.
He continued to serve as a pastor even while attending classes at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., from which he graduated in 1957.
“The biggest challenge (of being a pastor) was preparing sermons for every week … and also being responsible for the pastoral ministry, which involved visiting people and ministering to them in times of need, visiting hospitals and performing wedding ceremonies,” Hall said. “It just filled your time up.”
He said the greatest reward of being a pastor was seeing people come to know the Lord, most notably at a 1961 revival at Winfield Baptist Church, where he baptized 72 people.
“The first man I baptized was a pretty good-sized fellow,” Hall said.
“When I laid him in the water, it splashed around him and all over me, so it just really refreshed me. I was stronger I think when I got through than when I started.”
That same year, he moved to Montgomery to serve what was then Normandale Baptist Church (now Lakeview Baptist Church), leading the congregation through the turmoil of the civil rights movement.
“It kind of put you on edge, because you never knew what was going to happen,” Hall said.
He remembers initially there were people who were dead-set against allowing black men and women to worship in the church. Hall struggled to keep peace in the congregation while emphasizing his belief that all people are God’s creation and should worship together freely.
“It was my privilege to be able to lead Normandale Baptist Church to accept the black race into our membership before I left that church,” he said. “We put it on our church [books] that any person who desires to worship and fellowship is welcome in our church.”
Hall retired as pastor of Normandale Baptist in 1986. Two years later, he began serving as associate pastor of Heritage Baptist. His main responsibilities are hospital and home visitations, preparing devotionals for weekly staff meetings and leading the Wednesday night prayer meeting.
“That keeps me studying in the Book,” Hall said. “It’s very important, because that’s how we grow in faith, by studying the Word of God and seeking to apply it to our lives.”
Pastor Teman Knight appreciates Hall’s impact on the church’s mostly young ministry staff, his compassion toward those he visits in hospitals, the encouragement he has given him and his desire to continue serving the Lord as long as possible.
“Most ministers I know would like to minister until they’re 73, but to do it for 73 years, that’s an incredible thing,” Knight said. “If you talk to him, you understand his spirit, how God-honoring of a man he is.”
Hall and his wife have three children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
To celebrate his 90th birthday March 29, Heritage held a reception March 27.
As he reflects on his life, Hall said the main lesson he’s learned is the Lord’s power to turn those walking away from Him into powerful proclaimers of His Word.
“He can take the worst person, turn him into a follower and use him for the glory of God and the help of mankind.”