‘Beloved’ pastor honored for 35 years in Pintlala pulpitcomment (0)
January 25, 2007
By Jeremy Dale Henderson
To his efforts along these lines, the anniversary celebration brought congratulations from Methodist ministers, a former U.S. president, newspaper editors and even a former Montgomery-area rabbi. According to Burton, however, his own knack for ecumenism has not compromised his Baptist core.
"I really think people feel a strong need to get along with others, and I think it can be done without compromising your theology and your church distinctness," he said. "I think we can respect our differences but still transcend them with friendship."
And Burton is not lacking for friendship, respect and affection, according to those who know him best.
"Gary is one of a kind. There will never be another Gary Burton," said Beverly Williams, Pintlala Baptist’s coordinator of ministries and financial assistant. "He’s the kindest man I’ve ever known. The lower you are on the totem pole, the more love he shows you."
Williams was largely responsible for planning the anniversary festivities, which included a video tribute to Burton’s career featuring testimony, both humorous and moving, from Pintlala Baptist members and community colleagues.
"He’s easy to listen to because he knows what he’s talking about. Each time I left a sermon Gary preached, I left with more than I came with," said deacon Pat Moseley.
From friends and celebrities alike, Burton has gotten lots of accolades. On the day of the celebration, he received a plaque from Gov. Bob Riley and congratulations from former President George H.W. Bush, who has visited Pintlala Baptist when participating in local bass-fishing tournaments.
But Burton is taking his accomplishments in humble stride.
"I really do not personally require a lot of affirmation. I think we all need it to some degree and I do, too, but affirmation and love are just bonuses," he said.
Other bonuses presented to him and wife Jerrie, the church’s pianist of 35 years and pastor’s secretary, included an all-expense-paid cruise to Alaska and a diamond cross engraved with the date of the celebration. An honorary scholarship endowment at Samford University in Birmingham, Burton’s alma mater, is also being established in his name.
"Of course, I have to steel myself to some degree or I would lose it emotionally and almost did," he said later of the recognition. "All of that is deeply appreciated and I’m humbled by it."
In 1972, the Spanish moss that hangs just about everywhere in Pintlala lost its claim as the area’s defining natural feature.
That was the year Gary Burton was called as pastor of Pintlala Baptist Church in Montgomery Baptist Association. Since then, the love that people have for the 58-year-old pastor has been 10 times more noticeable. On Jan. 14, it could be seen in his church — clear as crystal.
That day marked Burton’s 35th anniversary at Pintlala Baptist, a rarified number in terms of pastorates. He is currently the longest-tenured pastor in Montgomery Association, and only 13 other Baptist pastors in the state have been at their post longer.
Burton said the secret to that kind of longevity is love and laughter.
"That’s a little simplistic in a complex age but there’s an enduring love, which has sustained us. You’ve got to have a sense of humor. You’ve got to accept people where they are," he said.
Acceptance has been a hallmark of his entire ministry — Burton has made a career of extending olive branches of the interdenominational and even interfaith variety.
"I think we ought to spend our energy building bridges and cultivating communication with other faith groups," he said.