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Author of ‘Jonah and the Whale’ retires as pastor of Centercrestcomment (0)

June 5, 2003

By Frances Pace Putman

In the early 1970s, members of a search committee at Centercrest Baptist Church in Birmingham went out to hear a prospective preacher deliver a Sunday morning sermon.

There was a mix-up about the time and place, and they didn’t get to meet the pastor they planned to see. On the way back to Center Point, the group stopped at Ensley Baptist Church, just to attend the morning worship.

By the end of the service, however, search committee members knew they had found their next pastor. They saw in Bob Curlee a young, energetic leader with a real heart for Christ.

“It was sort of a fluke, but there are no flukes with God,” remembered Nancy Sims, a longtime member of Centercrest Baptist Church. “At the time, our church members were hungry and thirsty for the Lord, and Bro. Bob came in like a breath of fresh air.”

In a real test of faith, Curlee left a large church to go to a much smaller one, with the belief, Sims said, that they would grow together. In that first year, she estimates there were about 150 new baptisms.

“He is such a soul-winner,” she added. “He’s lead hundreds of people to a saving relationship with Christ.”

Next month, Curlee will retire from Centercrest Baptist Church after 31 years of service. Again, he said, he feels God leading him to make a change.

“He is telling me that it is time for Moses to get out of the way and let Joshua take over,” Curlee said. “It’s time for me to move over and let someone younger come in.”

Once again, a search committee has been formed, and they are out looking for the right person to take over the pulpit.

“There will be no replacing Bro. Bob,” Sims said. “But, we know God is doing a new work in our church.”

While Curlee may be stepping down as a full-time minister, he isn’t giving up ministry all together. Over the years, he has written several books and plays, and he hopes to continue his writing. For several years, his popular Cross­roads series, featuring fictionalized stories based on real people he had known in his life, was available through Baptist bookstores.

“These were stories that needed to be told, about people who have been heroes in their own ways,”  Curlee said. 

He also has written a number of Christian, Broadway-style plays, including “Promised Land,” “Lottie,” based on the life of Lottie Moon and “Corrie,” based on the life of Corrie Ten Boom. One of his most popular plays is “Jonah and the Whale,” a funny, contemporary story about a man swallowed by a large fish.

The play was staged at the beach in Panama City, Fla., for four years in the early 1970s before being performed all around the country and garnering national attention.

Effective communicator

“He has a way of communicating history that people can understand and identify with,” said Earl Potts, executive secretary/treasurer emeritus of the Alabama State Baptist Convention.

“He is a very effective writer, with a gift for translating human events and experiences in a way that allows people to really grasp what is happening,” Potts said.

Five years ago, tragedy struck Centercrest Baptist Church when its young minister of music, Brian Tribble, was killed in an apparent robbery attempt at the church early one morning. For Curlee, the event was a turning point.

“It really took a plug out of me,” recalled Curlee, noting that Tribble, a gifted singer and actor, was an inspiration for much of his writing.

Before Tribble’s funeral, Curlee asked friends and relatives to fill out cards, telling their best memories of the young, energetic music minister. He gathered the cards into a memory book, which he presented to Tribble’s family.

Later, Curlee got several requests from other families about similar remembrance books.

Following his retirement, Curlee said he will be working with local funeral homes to offer memory books and Powerpoint computer presentations to families who are interested.

He plans to stay on at the church as pastor emeritus to help the  new  minister  get  settled.

“That makes it easier, knowing that he is not really leaving,” Sims said.

“He is so much more than our pastor. After all these years, he and his wife, Sue, are our friends,” he said.

Potts agreed that people
shouldn’t expect Curlee to just sit back and relax after his retirement. “His leadership is proven in many ways — in speaking, preaching, communicating the truth and encouraging church members and friends to become more like Christ,” Potts said. “He is a committed and insightful leader among leaders, and I know that he will continue to be.”

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