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Pastor retiring after 38 years at Starling Avenue Baptist
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The Rev. David Adkins stands in the sanctuary of Starling Avenue Baptist Church, which he has served for 38 years. Today will be his last service as senior pastor before he retires. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

David Adkins came to Starling Avenue Baptist Church in 1976 to serve as a backup to pastor John Woody. Thirty-eight years later, it is Adkins who is stepping aside.

Adkins, 67, is retiring today from the pulpit at Starling Avenue, where he has been senior pastor since 1979. Since then, he said, he has seen many changes in the church and the community, many of which he feels have been positive.

“In many ways, we’ve grown to be more hospitable than we were,” he said. “When people come here, they’re noticed and they’re welcomed.”

When church leaders anticipated a need when Woody developed lupus in the summer of 1975, a shared connection with Adkins gave him an advantage.

“I knew something of the church before I came here,” Adkins said. “I happened to know the organist who was here in the ’60s. He said, ‘I think this church is looking for someone.’ He made the call and connected us.”

Adkins arrived as associate pastor the following February, and although Woody’s condition improved, “it began wearing on him in 1979, and on Palm Sunday he had told me, ‘I don’t feel well; be prepared,’” Adkins said. “He looked at me during the offertory and said, ‘you’ll have to preach,’ and he died in June of that year.”

Adkins wasn’t an automatic choice to become senior pastor full-time, however. It was fall of 1979 before the church search committee asked him to accept the job for good.

That relationship has survived thanks to what Adkins calls the church’s “good, stable core” of members.

“I didn’t have to fight some of the battles you have to fight at some other places,” he said. “When you don’t have a lot of fussing and fighting to deal with, it helps you concentrate on other things. We’ve been able to move ahead and do what I think God has had us here for.”

Marshall Stowe, chairman of the church’s board of deacons, said Adkins deserves much of the credit for the lack of enmity within the church body.

“It’s quite an accomplishment to lead a congregation for 38 years and keep things going smoothly for that long without significant challenges,” Stowe said.

“Most of it I can attribute to his leadership. He’s been able to reach out to the entire community regardless of race, social status, ethnicity,” he added. “The church is basically a mirror image of David Adkins.”

But it takes time to develop that sort of relationship with a congregation, Adkins said, and that is a commitment some modern pastors don’t have the patience to attempt.

“It takes you a while to know your families in your church and for them to trust you,” he said. “I think some ministers get itchy after a time. They say ‘I need a new challenge.’ I tell them, ‘stay where you are; you’ll find a new challenge.’”

Stowe, who has been a member of the church for about 17 years, knew Adkins before joining the church through the Henry County Baptist Association.

“He’s probably one of the easiest people to work with I’ve ever known, and I guess that’s what makes him so well liked by almost everybody,” he said.

Starling Avenue has developed a diversity in its congregation between people of various races and socioeconomic backgrounds, and that, Adkins said, is by design.

“We should be a model of how people of diversity can still find unity,” he said. Another strength of the church is “being the church out there in the world” and being a positive influence in the community.

Adkins said he expects the transition to a new pastor to take about a year, during which the church will bring in interim ministers. He plans to remain active in the church, though “I’ve been advised by people who have done this before to lay low; otherwise I’ll find myself still doing the job,” he said.

In his retirement, Adkins plans to pursue hobbies such as gardening, painting, music and hiking, as well as spending more time with his grandsons. Adkins and his wife, Diane, have two daughters; Kristin Whitesides, associate pastor and minister to youth at First Baptist Church in Winchester; and Katie Adkins, assistant curator at Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

Adkins said he knows his gifts still will be put to use at Starling Avenue in his retirement, but he’s thankful he’s had nearly four decades here to hone them.

“It’s been a real blessing that the things I’m really interested in ... are a part of being a pastor now” such as community outreach and psychology, he said. “I have a broader vision of all of that because of the experience I’ve had with these people.”


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