BLAIRSVILLE — “It’s been like a 30-year honeymoon,” said Harrison Bradley of his time as pastor of New Union Baptist Church in Blairsville. Bradley, 68, announced his retirement in February. A retirement party for him was held June 30 — his last official day.
Since 1989, Bradley has steered the ship from a twice-a-week service of 40 people to now 150 per week. He’s done so with discipleship, mentoring, encouragement, and leadership.
“He fed me, encouraged me, and groomed me,” said new pastor Justin Jarrett. Jarrett became pastor July 1 after being associate pastor for two years.
Bradley, a retired 30-year educator, was bi-vocational while teaching. He previously served at Lower Hightower Baptist Church in Hiawassee.
Bradley’s goal was to change attitudes by mentoring and doing one-on-one discipleship.
Jarrett credits Bradley with teaching him what it really means to have a heart for the people of the church. “…Not just the church, but the people in it — the ones that are hard to have a heart for. He’s taught me what it really looks like to be a pastor. Not just a preacher and not just a disciple maker, but the whole of what we are called to do.”
Jarrett said Bradley goes above and beyond. When Jarrett lived in Athens, they met halfway to talk and eat. “There’s a wide spread number of men that he did that with and continues to do that with even now. That’s always been his approach to discipleship is to create groups like that that whoever you had been discipling would branch off and do that with someone else as well.”
One such person is New Union’s Men’s Ministry Director Adam Hughes. “He saw something in me that was worth pursuing. He’s been like a daddy to me.”
Hughes said he cares about people, is encouraging, and is straightforward. “I had a lot of tradition in me. God used him to break a lot of chains. He would be the one who asks deep questions. He’d correct you.”
He added, “We’re cut from the same cloth. I need that. I need to know if I’m off key.”
Bradley said the most rewarding thing about his tenure was the discipleship, the church becoming mission-minded, and building a new worship facility.
He learned quickly in his ministry at New Union that change needed to take place. “If you are going to grow, you have to expect there to be change and be flexible in that. It doesn’t always happen with ease, but you have to be persistent if you feel like it is from God, if you feel the change needs to take place.”
Bradley plans to spend more time with his wife of 46 years, Candy, daughter Melanie, son James, and their seven grandchildren and “continue to support our new pastor and the church in whatever ways God chooses to use me. I don’t know what that is right now. I don’t know what that is going to look like.”