By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
December 8, 2005
As Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Dec. 25, one church in Alabama will say goodbye to the pastor that has served them for almost 20 years.
Billy Harris, pastor of Parker Memorial Baptist Church, Anniston, in Calhoun Baptist Association, will retire after preaching the Christmas Day message. It is a decision he said was difficult, considering the historic church is on the threshold of a multimillion-dollar restoration project and preaching has been the center of his life since 1956.
“There is just no good time to say goodbye,” Harris said.
The church is hosting a reception in his honor Dec. 11, 3:30–5 p.m.
An Oxford native, Harris is the youngest of six children born to A.L. and Cora Cobb Harris. Although his parents were believers, they were not active in church. But Harris attended Lakeview Baptist Church, Oxford, in Calhoun Association with friends and made a profession of faith about age 13.
As a sophomore at Oxford High School, Harris rededicated his life after a friend invited him to a revival meeting at Glen Addie Baptist Church, Anniston. A year later, he committed his life to the ministry and started preaching right away.
Although Harris can’t recall his first sermon, he said the “preacher boys” of Glen Addie Baptist found places to preach. “Three or four of us would get together and clean out a vacant building in south Anniston,” Harris said. “We got some chairs and had a revival by inviting people to come.”
Harris said he didn’t really know what he was doing in his early days of preaching but he loved it. After high school graduation in 1957, Harris pursued pastoral studies at Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla. He served as pastor of churches in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida during his college and seminary years.
“During those years, there really was not a lot of attention given to communicating the gospel. The attention was on substance,” Harris said. “When I came along, you could basically go through college and seminary with no emphasis on communication.”
Harris said the more he listened to preachers, the more he realized someone needed to help them. “Gradually my interest moved toward working with young ministerial students.”
From 1968–1978, Harris was professor of religion and philosophy at Samford, where he taught preaching, speech and religious education. The guidance Harris provided to future pastors is still felt today, said former student Sid Nichols.
Nichols, director of missions for Calhoun Association, believes Harris’ instruction made an impact on his own preaching style. “He brought basic fundamentals into my preparation and presentation of my messages,” he said. “He was very respected as a speech expert, which is a valuable asset when teaching preaching.”
Harris’ affiliation with Samford has remained strong through the years. In 1992, he was selected as one of Samford’s “ministers of the year,” and professors often shared messages from the pulpit at Parker Memorial Baptist, where Harris began serving in 1986.
From the classroom to the church to the community, he confirmed that being a pastor is not affirmed in numbers according to membership, even though Parker Memorial’s is more than 2,100. It is in individual people, Harris said.
“Ministry is about people, not about programs,” he said. “We are here partnering with people to meet the needs of our community.”
Wayne Hostetter, minister of education and seniors adults at Parker Memorial, said Harris is always conscious of being a pastor to every church member. “He is a very positive individual and exhibits a great degree of wisdom in dealing with all types of situations,” he said.
Don Gober, minister of music at Parker Memorial, has worked beside Harris since 1991. Gober said he learned the wisdom of patience and caution during trying and difficult situations from Harris.
Gober, whose wife died after a long battle with breast cancer, said, “Billy Harris is the most caring and loving pastor in a time of personal crisis that I have ever known. Families constantly tell me what a comfort he has been and how his loving spirit pulled them through the worst circumstances.”
Throughout Harris’ ministry, he served on the board of directors for The Alabama Baptist, board of regents for the University of Mobile, as president of the board of governors for Judson College in Marion, and chaired the committee on boards and commissions for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
But his goal has been to please Christ, not men. Harris hopes Christ will one day say to him, “You’ve been faithful,” as a reflection of his service to church and family, which includes wife, Phoebe, and three children.
“That’s all I hope He says,” Harris said.
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