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Atmore-area church celebrates 130 years; pastor marks 25 yearscomment (0)

August 4, 2005

By Lauren Brooks

Judson Baptist Church in Poarch, near Atmore, celebrated two important anniversaries June 26 — the church’s 130th anniversary and Jimmy Dukes’ 25th year as pastor.
“It was one of the biggest days of my life,” Dukes said. “It was everything I thought it might be.”
Church member Chris Terry said combining the two reasons to celebrate made it a meaningful day for everyone involved. 
“He [Dukes] has been a special pastor for so long here and means a lot to us,” Terry said, adding that the celebration gave the church a good opportunity to let Dukes and his family know how much they are loved and appreciated.
“He has been a real instrument of the Lord in my life and in my family in his role as our pastor,” Terry said. “You just don’t hear about many pastors staying in a place for 25 years anymore.”
Dukes said although the dynamics of the church have changed during his years as pastor, the congregation is truly a family.
“We’ve had a lot of funerals — this is an older congregation — and not a lot of young people are staying in the community,” he said. “But we’ve become a family here. Life is about relationships and I don’t know of any other church that gets along as well.”
A bivocational pastor, Dukes also works in the construction business.
“A lot of young men in the church have worked for me in one way or the other,” he said. “I’ve been under the microscope — people have seen me as their pastor and employer.”
Dukes, who has never served as pastor for another church, said he plans to stay at Judson Baptist with his wife, Rheada, until the Lord calls him elsewhere.
“I’ve just never felt that there’s been another open door for me to do anything but what I’m doing,” he said. “I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.”
Dukes said he figures he’s preached about 3,900 sermons. “I never dreamed I’d deliver one sermon,” he said. “Before becoming a preacher, I was very introverted and terrified at the thought of speaking. I’m still not completely at ease with it.”
Dukes, 58, said he was a young man in the insurance business when he felt the call to become a pastor.
“The Lord wouldn’t let me be at peace until I surrendered to the ministry,” he said. “I didn’t finish college but I had to equip myself through life experiences, soaking up what I could.”
In December 1979, Dukes was asked to fill in at Judson Baptist, and in June 1980, the church called him to be its pastor.
“Honestly it feels like I’ve just been here a few days,” he said. “I’ve grown a lot but I am who the congregation has allowed me to be and develop with the Lord’s leadership.”
The church Dukes has had the privilege of leading was founded in 1875 and was named for Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson.
Former member Harold Malone came back for the celebration and along with his cousin, Federick Moore, presented a condensed yet colorful history of the church during the anniversary service.
Malone noted the church met underneath a grape arbor until the building was constructed in 1907. He also said that in the early days of the church, some Indians and ex-slaves were part of the congregation.
The original sanctuary was torn down in 1966, and for many years, the church met in the fellowship hall. In 1981, a new sanctuary was built in the same location as the first.
“For the church’s first 75 years, the baptizing was mostly done in Perdido Creek behind the church,” Malone said. “Some people were baptized in the wash hole where we used to swim, and some were baptized in the mill pond.”
Following the anniversary service, the church had a covered-dish lunch in the fellowship hall and then had a time of fellowship.

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