In the coming months, The Christian Index will be highlighting some Georgia Baptist pastors who have become heroes to their churches and communities. The Apostle Paul wrote, “The elders (pastors) who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (Timothy 5:17, NIV).
COLUMBUS – The emphasis of the Georgia Mission Board is: “Pastors Are Our Heroes, Churches are our Priority, and Georgia is our Mission Field.” For the past 12 months many pastors all across the state have risen to the new and challenging demands created by the pervasive pandemic that has altered all of our lives. Hundreds of pastors have gone the second mile in caring for their flock and have been creative in finding new ways to proclaim the glorious gospel of Christ.
One pastor who continues to demonstrate heroic qualities is Dr. Tony R. Dickerson, pastor of Pinehurst Baptist Church in Columbus. In 1973, fifteen years after the birth of Pinehurst, Dickerson became the pastor of the Columbus church. If you do the math you can easily see that he is in his 48th year as pastor of the church.
Lorraine Badr, one of the church’s most delightful and supportive members, explained, “When Pastor Dickerson became our pastor the church experienced remarkable growth. Every week, the people who made up the church family came. When the church built the new sanctuary over two decades ago, the congregation continued to support and reach out to its community.
“Several years ago, our pastor discovered that he had some physical challenges including Multiple Myeloma, a type of cancer that is found in bone marrow and causes the body to be unable to fight infections. That is only one of several debilitating illnesses and occasionally he suffers from extreme sickness. While these physical issues have impacted his mobility and created other hardships, the pastor and the congregation have continued to reach out to the Columbus community with a great commitment.”
The COVID-19 pandemic attacked Columbus and Muskogee County with a fury like it did in many areas in Georgia. So, on the first Sunday in April last year, Dickerson and the church leadership decided to begin drive-in worship services on Sunday morning. In April, the weather was beautiful and mild, but it became obvious that the pastor’s resolve would not be determined by the weather, his own health or the raging pandemic.
Every Sunday since April 5, 2020 – for 42 straight Sundays – the Pinehurst Pastor has been standing under the canopy between the church offices and the worship center to preach to church members who have remained in the comfort and safety of their own automobiles. The heat of the summer sun, the cold of the winter wind, and the occasional torrential rain has not dissuaded the pastor for one minute. He has continued to preach and display an in indomitable spirit.
The members and guests who come to worship show their love and appreciation for Dickerson by honking their automobile horns when he approaches the pulpit to deliver his sermon. They have also discovered that honking their horns is a good substitute for saying “amen” when they are blessed by the music and when they are in agreement with a salient point made in the pastor’s sermon.
The Pinehurst digital newsletter is called “The Pilot” and in Dickerson’s “Pastor’s Pen” column he wrote, “Incredible! Marvelous! Heavenly! Those are just some of the words which could be used to describe our parking lot worship service last Sunday morning.
The attendance was astonishing; the music was glorious; the spirit of our people was uplifting; and the liberty I experienced in preaching the Word of God was out of this world.” In one of his columns, he mentioned that the temperature had gotten into the 30s, but he felt as warm as if he were standing on a sunny beach.
Mariano Pidlaoan, a deacon and one of the greeters for the drive-in services, stated, “Our attendance for the parking lot services has grown since the first Sunday in April.” He added, “Actually, I have been seeing more new faces attending our church. Many of the spouses that seldom attend the worship services in the auditorium are now accompanying their spouses every Sunday and they are bringing their grandchildren. They are enjoying the comfort of having worship in their own cars and wearing comfortable clothes.”
Others have indicated that people walking by the church have stopped and remained for the services.
Lorraine Badr added, “Every week the upper and lower parking lots are filled as people experience “drive-in” church. They are able to hear great music and get a message from the Lord all from the comfort and safety of their automobiles – seldom is there an empty space in the parking areas. Our worship services are also being broadcast on Facebook which affords our homebound members the opportunity to be a part of the worship services for the first time since the church’s television ministry was discontinued.
“For me, these times of worship have been such a blessing,” Badr explained. “I cannot express how comforting it has been to be able to worship and cry out to the Lord from the privacy of my car, while at the same time, being surrounded by people who love me – my church family. This season has been especially difficult for me due to the loss of my daughter, and many times I haven’t had words to express my emotions. These times have truly been a blessing and have been a part of the healing I have needed. Hearing the messages, both in songs and sermons have been a source of encouragement and strength.
“These services have also been a blessing to Mrs. Mary, our pastor’s wife. She was not able to come to the church prior to the pandemic due to physical limitations, but as a result of our parking lot services and the broadcasting of our services on Facebook, she is able to be a part of our worship experience every week.”
So, Pastor Tony Dickerson’s determination to fight through his own physical challenges, remain undeterred in the midst of inclement weather, refusal to retreat to a more comfortable role in the midst of a pandemic and put the safety of his congregation first qualifies him as a hero.