FORT VALLEY -- Bryan McPherson thinks of himself as an old-fashioned kind of guy pastoring an old-fashioned Southern Baptist church.
My dad is more contemporary than I am, he said.
At 33 years old, McPherson has been pastor of Chamlee Memorial Baptist Church for two and a half years.
Its the greatest place on Earth, McPherson said of the church. I love it. When we refer to the church we refer to it as the Chamlee family, and thats just what it is -- one big family. Ive never been around a group of folks who are as humble, friendly and as generous as people are here. It feels like family.
McPherson said he went home one night recently and asked his wife, Melodye, What do you do when you realize youre living your dream?
Its true, he said. I get to do what I love every day. I get to build furniture in my woodshop, tie my (fishing) ties and best of all, I get to minister to people who genuinely love one another and the Lord. It seems like every day of my life is the greatest day of my life. We arent really anywhere near perfect, but it seems pretty close.
Aside from these hobbies and his vocation, plus tending chickens in his backyard and hunting and fishing with buddies and church members, McPherson is an avid gardener. He said he has 80 tomato plants this year, and a lot of the resulting tomatoes will be shared with others in and out of the church. He said the same is true with many others in the congregation who share the fruits of their gardens and their lives.
Though the church has ministries for various groups and an especially thriving seniors ministry, McPherson said Chamlee Memorial doesnt have a lot of outreach activities. Instead, he said, the congregation is better at just being good neighbors involved in the life of their community and the hurts and cares of friends.
One of the greatest outreach ministries we have is the way our Chamlee family really puts on the Ritz when a family is experiencing grief from a death, he said. That may sound kind of funny, but its true. Its not unusual for churches to take food and help families in that situation, but here, I dont know, theres a special genuineness and caring. Its part of the humility I mentioned. And people are always willing to pray with you, not just for you. Its part of being involved, being a family.
McPherson said he cant get away for the idea of being old fashioned -- in a good way.
We believe in the good old Gospel message and good old Southern hospitality, he said. We dont do anything out of as sense of obligation but out of an urgency of love for one another and others. We dont shun people.
McPherson said he believes its noteworthy that the church has only had eight pastors in its 56 years since its founding in 1957. Being a young man, he said he also thinks its interesting the church has never had a pastor that wasnt on Medicare. He said the minister he replaced retired from the church at 82, and that was typical.
I think a lot of people here think of me as their son or grandson, but Ive never had the feeling they were thinking, If he was just a little older .
McPherson is originally from Sylvester and received a bachelors degree in biblical studies from the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Fla. He is currently completing a masters degree in Christian leadership through Liberty Universitys (Lynchburg, Va.) online studies program.
While studying in Graceville, McPherson served as associate and youth pastor in Enterprise, Ala., and as pastor in Sampson, Ala. After graduating, he served as pastor at Northside Baptist Church in Quitman before coming to Chamlee Memorial Baptist.
He and Melodye have two children, Carter, 6, and Lydia, 4.
I think of it like this, McPherson said. We exist to magnify the love of Jesus and demonstrate it here and to the nations through acts of love, service and generosity. I believe the church was so important that Christ died for it. The visible, tangible image of the love of Christ can be found in the church, in me, in others. You could say my vision is to see people happy in the Lord and in one another. Sometimes I think we get the whole evangelism thing wrong. Jesus said he would be known by the love we Christians have for one another. If we get that right and then go and tell -- and show -- others a really genuine love then it will definitely pique their curiosity.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.