Published September 11, 2008
WAYCROSS — Michael Phelps, the United States Olympic swimming sensation, is a remarkable athlete, but Julian Pipkin is no less remarkable to those who know him best.
Pipkin is a legend in Georgia Baptist life and at age 92 continues to preach, teach, write, and even does a little fishing from his electrically powered boat that is charged with a solar battery and is always primed for an excursion across the lake at Baptist Village in Waycross.
The Baptist Village in Waycross is home for Julian and Sarabelle Pipkin. He emphasized, “When we came here it was a planned move. Too many sons and daughters struggle, and often divide over the care of aging parents. As we approached our nineties, we made the decision for an independent villa at Waycross. All our children responded happily.”
Just the Sunday preacher
Pipkin was born on Aug. 25, 1916 in the Cherry Creek Church Community in Valdosta and on July 31 he celebrated the 70th anniversary of his ordination as a minister of the gospel. Furthermore, Julian and Sarabelle will celebrate 70 years of marriage on Oct. 4th. So, in a sense he is a 70/70 man.
At the present time he is serving as the preacher for Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Waycross. In actual fact, he is the interim, but Sarabelle didn’t want him to accept another interim so he insists that he is just the Sunday preacher.
Is his age a liability to his effectiveness? The members at Pleasant Valley don’t think so. Andy Hickox, chairman of the pastor search committee, explained, “He has great
enthusiasm and he gets around better than I do and I am just 53. He also relates well to our youth. During the welcome time you can see him seeking out the young people and giving them a ‘high five.’ He has been a blessing and a good preacher. He is a teaching preacher, but he gets his point across.”
Digging to better things
Pipkin was born during the middle of the World War I years and graduated from high school in 1933 during the Great Depression. Upon his high school graduation he got a job in a grocery store at $7 a week.
Pipkin recalled, “A high school classmate dared me to join the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) with him. The job required us to board a train to Fargo, on the St. Marys River, where we started our work digging stumps.”
The CCC was a program inaugurated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help pull America out of the depression. More than twenty-five percent of the population was unemployed, hungry, and without hope. The New Deal programs initiated by Roosevelt energized the economy and created an equilibrium that helped to bolster the needs of the people.
Although Pipkin was eventually promoted to assistant of the camp educational director he admitted that digging stumps convinced him of the need of more education. He remarked, ‘Sarabelle was in college while I was in CCC. I had to catch up!”
The Lowndes County native enrolled in Norman College, taking extra courses and summer school to catch up with Sarabelle. He paid his way by serving as the “mail boy” and helping Cuban students learn English. While there Pipkin also said “yes” to God’s call to preach the gospel.
From Norman Pipkin moved to Macon to continue his education at Mercer University. He stated, “Another Cairo boy and I washed dishes three times a day for the entire Sherwood Hall dining room. I also started a dry-cleaning pick-up and delivery job for students and served as the student chaplain at Georgia State Prison in Milledgeville.”
Upon graduating from Mercer Julian and Sarabelle married and headed to Southern Seminary. Sarabelle, who had graduated from Georgia State College for Women at Milledgeville, enrolled in the Carver School of Missions at Southern Seminary and received her master’s degree. At Southern Julian had a straight “A” record with the exception of one “B.”
Pipkin earned both a Master of Theology degree and a Doctor of Theology degree at Southern while also serving student pastorates in Scottsburg and Deputy, Ind.
In 1947 Pipkin was called as pastor of First Baptist Church of Thomson and then moved to Waycross to serve as pastor of Central Baptist Church.
In 1957 Pipkin, a much-loved and successful pastor, was hired by the Georgia Baptist Convention as Sunday School Department director. In 1973 he became the first director of the Church Services Division of the GBC.
With the Convention Pipkin became known as “Mr. Enthusiasm” and earned a wide reputation for his optimism and zeal. His following statement, is typical: “In my judgment, you cannot have quality Christians without a constant emphasis on outreach. When we stop going after new members, we will soon have no members to train in Bible study.”
He has also remarked, “My roots grow deep in Baptist soil. I am truly grateful for my heritage, my family, and my years with Georgia Baptists.”
Pipkin retired from the GBC in 1985, but was rehired part-time as director of program coordination and planning, a position he kept until retiring “again” in 1990.
Since his “retirement” Pipkin served seven years as pastor of Barnett’s Creek Baptist Church in Thomasville. While there church attendance tripled, three building projects were completed, and when he resigned in 2004 the church was debt free and in good health. He has also held several interims and presently preaches twice every Sunday at Pleasant Valley, teaches a Bible study for the residents of the “Assisted Living” facility at Baptist Village, and writes a “Faith and Values” column for the Waycross Journal-Herald.
The Pipkins have a daughter, Janet Crane of Camilla; Julian T(ommy) Jr. of Coral Springs, Fla.; Richard of Gautier, Miss.; and James (Jimmy) of Westminister, S.C. This nonagenarian couple also has eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Waldo Woodcock, former director of the Discipleship and Training Ministry of the GBC, first got to know Pipkin in 1956 at Central Baptist Church in Waycross. “His influence was one of the factors that led me to work for the Convention,” he said. “He has modeled what it means to be a family man, church man, and denominational man, which all begins with being God’s man. Sarabelle was the ideal pastor’s wife and denominational wife. She has always been loyal to his ministry.”
Ed Cliburn, former assistant executive director of the GBC, worked with Pipkin for many years and commented, “Julian was one of the most thorough people I ever worked with in Baptist life. He planned every detail and was precise and dedicated in everything he did. That was the secret to his success.”
Bobby Boswell, assistant executive director/vice president for Ministries, stated, “My first recollection of Dr. Pipkin was as a student at Norman College. At that time he served as Sunday School director for the Convention. It was years later, after graduation from New Orleans Seminary, that I came to know Dr. Pipkin as a friend to pastors.
“He was leading an emphasis on ‘Great Month in Sunday School’ in the Troup Baptist Association. From that point forward Dr. Pipkin became my mentor. He is the perfect example of a Christian gentleman, devoted husband, loving father, and a true statesman.
“Mattie and I met Mrs. Pipkin when Dr. Pipkin asked me to serve as the director of the Sunday School Department. She is a kind, gracious lady with a wonderful sense of humor and a keen knowledge of God’s Word.
“Every encounter with Dr. Pipkin has been a learning experience. A conversation with him may provide a sermon outline, a fresh perspective on some current event, or a fascinating story from his life experiences. I will always be grateful for his example and influence upon my life.”
Julian Pipkin’s electronically powered fishing boat probably doesn’t leave much of a wake, but his life and the life of his Sarabelle is leaving a wake of blessings that cannot be measured this side of heaven.
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