Melvin Harris

After 50 years, Melvin Harris will officially retire as pastor of Halesford Baptist Church.

It’s common to see churches replace pastors after so many years or, in some denominations, see pastors rotate churches after a few years. One particular church, though, has had the same pastor for 50 years, but that will change this month when he retires.

Melvin Harris, who has been the pastor of Halesford Baptist Church in Westlake Corner for half a century, will officially retire this month. 

Harris said he began to feel the calling of God to preach in his late 20s, but he originally didn’t want to do it full time. Harris talked about how he had a good job at a furniture company at Altavista and was singing in a quartet, which took up a decent amount of time for him.

While he and his wife attended his former church in Huddleston, Harris got his first experience preaching by filling in for his pastor, Joe Sternum, every once in a while. Sternum then mentioned to pastors around the area that Harris would fill in if they needed someone to cover a Sunday service while they were on vacation or attending other matters.

“I began to do more and more filling in,” Harris said.

He stated he was becoming more of a freelance pastor during that time. Still, he wasn’t sold on becoming a full-time pastor.

Harris said he still tried to use an excuse that he was still reaching to people with the gospel by singing in the quartet, which was still true, but it wasn’t where God wanted him to be. 

There are plenty of instances in the Bible that speak of people being reluctant of God’s plan for them. Examples include in the book of Exodus, where Moses was hesitant to fulfill God’s plan for him to lead his people out of slavery. In the Book of Jonah, Jonah ran from God’s plan for him to go to Nineveh and speak of the prophesy that will happen to them if they don’t turn from their sinful ways. As both stories go, Moses and Jonah willfully surrendered and accepted their destiny to fulfill God’s plan for them.

There is one book that Harris mentions and compares to his situation of fulfilling God’s plan for him to be a pastor. In the Book of Judges, Gideon was told by God to go fight the Midianites but humbly asked God to give him a sign to be sure. He then placed fleece of wool outside and told God if there is dew on the fleece only and it’s dry on the ground, then he will fight and save Israel from the Midianites. The next morning, Gideon awoke to find dew on the fleece and the ground completely dry.

Gideon again wanted to make sure one more time. He placed the fleece outside again and told God that if the ground was covered in dew but the fleece wasn’t, then that’s when he would know for sure. Gideon arose the next morning to find the fleece completely dry while the ground was covered in dew.

Harris said his fleece was asking God to show him if he was meant to be a pastor.

“I said, ‘God if you really want me to preach then open doors for me, and he did,’” Harris said.

He mentioned that he began to fill in for pastors in the surrounding area more often, but Harris again laid out another fleece to be sure and asked God if he really wanted him to be a preacher then to give him a small church that’s far enough away from home to where the people don’t know him but close enough to commute. Harris said that he wanted a small church that couldn’t afford a full-time pastor. That church that Harris asked for was Halesford Baptist Church. 

There’s more to this story in the current issue of the Smith Mountain Eagle newspaper. Pick up a copy or subscribe at to view the full article in the print and/or e-edition version.

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