After 26 years, Baptist pastor decides to resign
By EILEEN SCHULTE
© St. Petersburg Times,
CLEARWATER -- On Monday morning, one day after Pastor William Anderson broke the news to his congregation at Calvary Baptist Church that he was resigning, he got mail.
"Bill," the e-mail said, "this is God. I've reconsidered, and think you should stay at Calvary for five more years. Sorry for the confusion."
Anderson sat in his office and laughed as he looked at a printout of the message Monday afternoon. It was from Anderson's good friend and church member Bud Spriggs, who was playing a little joke on him.
But perhaps the message reflects how some members of the congregation feel about Anderson's departure after 26 years of leading their church, which has grown to 5,400 members and boasts being the oldest in Pinellas County.
Anderson's announcement at Sunday's service didn't stun the congregation because many apparently thought their pastor, now 65, was contemplating retirement.
"I feel he's ready to let God's next man take (the church) to the next level," said Doug Rucker, a church member and employee who has known Anderson since the fifth grade.
Although Anderson said doctors have told him he is in great shape, he agrees with Rucker.
"The thing that produced the decision was my age," said Anderson, who said he has worked six-day weeks during his 42-year career. "I'm an athlete. At some point it's time to give the ball to a younger guy."
The resignation comes at a time of growth for the church, which started a new high school just last fall and swapped some land with the city of Clearwater. Calvary Baptist, one of Clearwater's architectural treasures perched on the bluff overlooking Clearwater Harbor, also would have figured significantly in changes downtown had the July 2000 downtown redevelopment referendum passed.
"Had the land swap and city referendum happened, then likely I would have stayed for the transition," Anderson said.
"I don't have many mortal fears, any mortal terrors; but I do have one that's been persistent over the years, and that is the fear that as a pastor I would overstay my effectiveness," he told his congregation during the Sunday service. "I've always prayed, "Dear God, let me know before they know.' "
Anderson made a deal with the church deacons. He informed them he will continue to preach at Calvary and continue his television ministry until the first of the year. The church will begin searching for a replacement pastor immediately.
"(My) goal is to be his greatest cheerleader," Anderson said.
Twenty-six years ago Monday, Anderson, who grew up in Moonshine Hill, Texas, and whose father died in an oil field when Anderson was 17 weeks old, drove to Clearwater from Euless, Texas, with wife, Addie, and their children. He had served at four large churches in his home state before coming to Calvary Baptist at age 39.
He said he hoped to "take some R and R in Florida," then return to his home state. But he stayed.
"Now I consider myself a Floridian," he said.
He said he doesn't regret his decision to come to Florida or his career choice.
"If I die tomorrow, I can truthfully say I've done exactly what I wanted to do with my life," Anderson said. "Watching people negotiate tragedies, walking them through the death of a child, the loss of a job. No matter what the crisis, you have an entry into their lives. What a privilege."
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
North Pinellas desks