Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

TOP STORY > >Pastor retires after 42 years with church

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader editor-in-chief

Two years after he had cancer surgery, Lyndon Whitledge has retired as pastor of North Jacksonville Missionary Baptist Church, where he was the minister for 42 years and at its predecessor, Unity Baptist Church, which was in the Sunnyside section of Jacksonville.

But even after the church moved uptown, along the freeway between Jacksonville and Cabot, North Jacksonville Missionary Baptist continued in its modest way. Like its pastor, its a simple church, with no airs about it.

Whitledge, who is 68, was a big man until he fell ill. He has lost a lot of weight from more than 300 pounds, hes down to about half that.

I lost about 175 pounds, he said Monday. Im not the man I once was. I feel good, but I dont get around as much as I used to.

Im not an invalid, he continued. I can drive a car. I can get around.

He usually stays at home and is often resting in bed.

Although he still goes to church, he decided this summer it was time to retire, making way for Nick Bumgardner as his successor, who is just 27, almost as young as Whitledge when he started out at the church.

He never forgot his roots when he arrived here in 1965, after he served in the Army in Turkey during the Cuban missile crisis.

He says it was there, following a secret deal between John Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev, that the U.S. agreed to remove its missiles from Turkey if the Soviets took out their missiles from Cuba, thus averting World War III.

Whitledge was born in Oklahoma, and he arrived in Jacksonville after completing his studies at Little Rock Missionary Baptist Seminary.

He was on the front page of the first issue of The Leader, which ran a picture of Whitledge and other local ministers protesting the sale of pornographic magazines at a gas station.

Whitledge was a carpenter for much of his life, and he wore his work clothes most every day, except on Sundays, holidays and funerals and public events.

About 50-75 people worship at his old church while they avert their eyes from the distractions around them: A couple of businesses nearby sell alcohol, and theres also a strip joint and a lingerie shop.

Whitledge thinks zoning laws are biased against churches, and hed tell any public official whod listen how he felt about the matter, although without much success.

Hed rail against government schools and government in general for opposing religion.

Im worried about the next generation, he said. What kind of world are we leaving for them?

Whitledge is grateful for having survived major surgery that included removal of a part of his esophagus and the lower part of his stomach. Its the disease that killed Humphrey Bogart at the age of 57.

According to the Mayo Clinic, survival rates have improved when the disease is detected early enough. The cancer can start with acid reflux disease, which is what Whitledge had.

If you have acid indigestion, youd better have it checked out, he said.

I was doing an electrical job when I passed out, Whitledge added. I was fortunate they got to me when they did.

He appreciates the calls he gets from friends and acquaintances.

I may be retired, but Im not dead yet, Whitledge said. I have always tried to do what God would have me do. I have always been consistent in my convictions. Without God, you have nothing. I never regretted my decision to put God first.

Then, in a personal comment directed at this columnist, he said, Id stand with you when standing with you wasnt a good idea.

The words of a saint.