Muscle Shoals pastor Tom Whatley retires after 27 yearscomment (0)
January 6, 2005
By Lauren Brooks
When he served as the head of the pulpit committee, Hollis Isbell had no idea the pastor he helped choose would stay at his church for more than 25 years.
Now, after 27 years of serving Woodward Avenue Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals, Tom Whatley has retired. “We think God’s will was done in bringing him to us,” Isbell said. “He was the man for our church. He came and made us a family again.”
Whatley said he didn’t plan on being a pastor but thought he’d have a military career. “The last thing I wanted to do was pastor. I fought it but then I decided that I had to do what God wanted me to do.”
Whatley’s father, T.W. Whatley, was also an Alabama Baptist pastor and it was at his church, Town Creek, where the younger Whatley made public his decision to preach.
Some weeks after this proclamation, Whatley’s father volunteered his son to preach at nearby Providence Baptist Church where there had recently been a church split.
“I didn’t know what to say or preach,” Whatley said.
“My father said to go out and just tell folks how much I loved the Lord. So I did and afterward knew this was what I was supposed to do. It was the happiest I’d ever been in life.”
Whatley still had an obligation to serve three years in the military but after he finished he resigned his commission and attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
During this time he served as pastor of a country church and four months before he graduated, Leighton Baptist Church, near Muscle Shoals, called him as pastor.
Whatley spent five and a half years at Leighton until he resigned to return to Southwestern to get his doctorate in ministry. After finishing his degree he led Central Baptist Church in Florence for five and a half years.
Then he accepted the offer to serve as pastor of Woodward Avenue Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals and stayed there for 27 years until he retired Dec. 5.
“You don’t dream of spending your entire ministry in an area within an eight- or nine-mile radius,” he said.
“Getting to Woodward Avenue was a special pilgrimage for me. I’ve always been able to move where people know me,” he said.
One highlight of his ministry at Woodward Avenue was building churches across the country each summer with other men from his congregation. “We went for 22 years straight to build these churches,” Whatley said. “We were totally self-supported. We would pay our own way and then the congregations we helped could put all of their resources toward their building.”
Whatley said he will miss being the pastor of Woodward Avenue Baptist.
“I’m a dinosaur,” Whatley said. “I do ministry the way I saw my dad do it where you’re involved in the lives of people. I will miss the burden and responsibility I’ve felt for these people.”
Neal Isbell, chairman of the deacons of Woodward Avenue Church, said Whatley taught the church how to love.
“He came to our church after we’d split and he was obviously just who the Lord wanted,” said Isbell, son of Hollis Isbell. “He taught us how to love each other and the Lord and that the two go together.”
Isbell said Whatley is also very respected and loved by the community.
“For his 20th anniversary we bought him a new truck and it was amazing the number of folks in the community who wanted to contribute,” he said. “They weren’t even members of our church.”
Isbell said the church held a special service and a communitywide reception to honor Whatley’s retirement.
“We took up a love offering and gave him $27,000 — $1,000 for each of the years he was here,” Isbell said.
Whatley said he doesn’t think he’ll be bored now that he’s retired.
“I plan to keep preaching at various places, teach some Bible studies and I know I will stay busy writing,” he said. Over the past four years Whatley has written and published three Western novels and one suspense novel.
“I’ve read all of his novels,” said Neal Isbell. “He is an intriguing writer. His murder mystery was set in the Muscle Shoals area.”
Whatley and his wife, Roslyn, have three children and five grandchildren.