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Gentle retires

By Michael Butler

Last Sunday marked the end of an era. Derek Gentle preached his last sermon as pastor of First Baptist Church in Tallassee. He is now retiring after 24 years and 2 months of service.

Aug. 2 was also the 168th anniversary of First Baptist, Tallassee's first established place of worship. The church was founded in 1852.

Tallassee was Gentle's calling. He arrived in 1996. He has always been quick to quip, "I'm not from Tallassee, but I got here as quick as I could."

"I haven't changed my mind," he said. "One time when I was in seminary, I ended up sitting down at a table for lunch with a professor. He says, 'Now Derek, what is it you want to do?' I said, 'I want to pastor a First Baptist Church in a county seat town in South Alabama.' I know we refer to this as Central Alabama, but close enough. We don't have a courthouse here, but that wasn't what I was talking about. This is the kind of town I always wanted to pastor in."

Gentle followed Jim Jackson and David Bentley at FBC.

"The three of us between us, have over a half century in one church, which is not bad."

Gentle with Travis the Camel at FBC's "Animals and Food of the Bible" event on July 15

Much of Gentle's time at First Baptist has been on Friendship Road. The church was dedicated on Sept. 26, 2004 moving from the James Street location where it had been located since 1919.

"The relocation was a big decision to make because when a church family leaves its house, they're leaving a lot of their memories behind. On the other hand, our mission meant more to us than our memories. Having Sunday School meeting in three different houses around the church, we were an awful complex campus for a church our size. We were landlocked and needed to upgrade our facilities."

The move has helped the church to grow.

"We have invested time, work and money into getting the campus where it is. "I do consider it a great mercy on the part of God to have had this ministry."

Now Gentle and his wife Sheila look forward to retirement and being near grandchildren in McCalla, near Birmingham.

"We're five to seven minutes away from our grandchildren. We bumped into them at Walmart the other day. That's never happened before."

Just as a search committe chose Gentle, one is in place to find his replacement.

"There are some talented young guys out there who are good preachers, good leaders and well trained. There's a lot of good people for the search committee to choose from."

*Derek Gentle Farewell