GREENFIELD — Decades ago when Pastor Randall Parker, a young man with a budding family, finally stood in church to answer the call to preach, his wife, Carolyn, rose to make a statement – which caused Parker no small amount of concern. “I don’t think I’d ever heard her say one word aloud in church,” Parker recalled this week. “I thought she’d say, ‘Are you out of your mind?’”
What she said, however, set the tone for the next 40 years.
“Wherever the Lord leads him, I’ll go with him,” Parker’s young wife told the congregation.
Good thing for her, she didn’t have to go too many places.
“I’m not a mover,” he said.
This Sunday, Parker and Carolyn will celebrate their 26th anniversary at Greenfield’s Bethel Baptist Church, the only church Parker has pastored since leaving the one he started in North Carolina.
Hailing from the scenic woods and valleys of northwest North Carolina, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Parker got involved with the church early, and though he was enamored with the idea of preaching, he most certainly didn’t want to be a preacher.
“The Lord would speak to my heart, and I would say, ‘I just can’t do that,’” Parker said.
“He kept tuggin’ a little stronger and a little stronger, and one night I was listening to an American missionary to Jamaica.”
Parker steadfastly maintained his position – he simply couldn’t stand up and preach – right up until he heard the call.
“The Lord said, ‘He’s not doing that,” Parker remembered. “And if I can do that through him, I can do it through you.’
“That night I told the Lord, ‘alright, you got me.”’
And he never turned back, preaching countless sermons and hundreds of revivals in 15 different countries.
One of those revivals happened to be in Greenfield, and when Bethel went looking for a new pastor, he was asked to sign on.
After 12 years pastoring his church in North Carolina – at some points working full time during the week as well – he relocated to Greenfield in 1988 when Bethel held services in town on Sixth Street.
“I just know this is where God wants me to be, and when you know that, you’re not looking,” he said.
Though Bethel has grown from a congregation of 150 to well over 500, drawing congregants from several counties and more than 20 zip codes, Parker said he’s tried to never lose the personal touch.
“My desire is to be personally involved and minister personally to the flock,” he said.
It’s a demanding job, but “tough in a unique way,” he said.
“But the best part is getting into the Book.”
Though he’s thousands of Sundays in his 40-year career, Parker says there’s never any danger of it getting old.
“We preach the living word of God,” he said. “It’s just like shaking hands with someone. You might do it all the time, but it’s always different. It can’t be exhausted.”
Bethel’s youth and children’s pastor Tommy Hensley, who has been on staff at Bethel for two years and in the ministry for eight, said a lot can be learned from working with a man of Parker’s experience.
The most important lesson for Hensley, however, is being authentic.
“The most impressive thing is not only what is preached from the pulpit but what is lived every day,” Hensley said. “He lives what he preaches every day.
“If you can’t trust a man out of the pulpit, you can’t trust him in the pulpit.”
Shepherding a dozen-member staff and a church full of people doesn’t leave much free time, but Parker still finds time to hunt, fish and play golf, though he proudly admits to never missing a Sunday sermon in the pulpit.
It’s where he was called to be so many years ago, and the one place that gives him peace.
“I get to get up every morning and do what I really want to do,” Parker said. “I’m just thrilled – but I don’t deserve it.”
Bethel Baptist Church is located at 1610 S. State St.. in Greenfield.