By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
DOWNSVILLE – As a teenager, Jerry Whitman’s main passion in life was aviation.
He dreamed of one day flying an aircraft as a full-time job, and Whitman was on track to fulfilling his dream until a revival meeting in 1970. It was there God showed Whitman He wanted him to go on a different flightpath – one which would lead him to pastor Holmesville Baptist Church in Downsville for 40 years.
For his service to the Concord Union Baptist Association church, the long-time pastor was recently honored in a surprise celebration service that included a video tribute from Whitman’s friends, presentations by Director of Missions Barry Joyner, Lincoln Parish District Attorney John Belton and an inspirational message by NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore.
“That Sunday I was thinking the service would go on as planned like any other time, but when I walked into the worship center I saw a plethora of people, including the astronaut in the suit, and knew something was up,” Whitman said of the April 23 service. “Our church has blessed me and my family so much and this was an example of how they care for us. I was blown away by all they put into this for me. I’m not worthy of it.”
A native of Choudrant, Whitman received his pilot’s license during his senior year of high school and enrolled at Louisiana Tech with plans to earn a degree in professional aviation. But God began to turn his heart toward ministry when he became involved in leadership at the Baptist Student Union on campus.
During his sophomore year at Louisiana Tech, Whitman attended a revival service at First Baptist Church in Choudrant. There, God confirmed to Whitman that he should pursue a career in ministry.
“I felt the conviction I needed to go forward to confirm a call to ministry I had been sensing for some time,” he said. “I wasn’t sure exactly what area but I knew I should commit to ministry as my career.”
A year after the revival meeting, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Choudrant called Whitman as pastor. After nearly six years at the church, Whitman sensed God moving him to another chapter in his ministerial journey as began serving April 10, 1977 as pastor of Holmesville Baptist Church, a congregation that averages between 80 and 100 for Sunday morning worship.
During his four decades of ministry, Whitman has emphasized serving Christ beyond the walls of Holmesville Baptist Church. Members are involved in ministries including feeding the homeless at Grace Place in Monroe, giving to Southern Baptist missions causes and meeting everyday needs of the community.
True to the church’s spirit of service outside its building, Whitman is chaplain for the Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Department and co-commander of the sheriff’s department reserve deputy unit.
“Our main ministry is local,” Whitman said. “We believe it’s important where you are planted to have an effective example and response to people in regard to the Gospel. Let others see Jesus in you where you Long-time member Butch Pardue said Whitman is the type of pastor who puts his church first.
“He has a great commitment to the church and he and his wife are like family to us,” said Pardue, a deacon at the church. “He has always been involved not just in our church’s life but in many things throughout the community, which shows he is someone with a huge heart for service. We’re just excited he chose to stick with us all these years and are looking forward to many more years ahead.”
The formula to pastoring one church for 40 years is three-fold, Whitman said. They involve keeping God first, serving with a jubilant congregation and having a supportive deacon body. And, of course, knowing one’s spouse and family stand by their pastor is another vital component.
“I’ve had opportunities to leave but the call of God is for me to stay here,” Whitman said. “These people I have served are wonderful, patient and ministering to me when I’m need of ministry. I’ve loved ministering to them and knowing they back their pastor is so encouraging. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”