Published February 9, 2012
ATHENS – After more than 30 years as pastor of Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens, Stewart B. Simms Jr. has retired. While the members of Beech Haven are reluctantly acknowledging that Simms is no longer the pastor most are certain that he will continue to serve the Lord in some strategic role in the days ahead. Simms is known far and wide as the tall, stately, faithful, pastor/preacher with a compelling, resonant, mellifluous voice.
Beech Haven was chartered as a church in February 1959 and Simms, the third pastor of the Athens church, has served the congregation for more than 30 years of the church’s 52-year history.
On the occasion of Beech Haven’s 50-year anniversary a history of the church was written in which Simms recounted, “My relationship with the church has been one of trust, patient love, and support. The people have allowed me to major on my strengths and have not forced me to be someone I am not. They have returned ministry to me in several times of loss and crisis and have provided time and financial resources to enjoy some significant periods of travel and rest.”
During Simms’ three decades of ministry in Athens Beech Haven has constructed a new education building, completed a youth-multipurpose building, launched a ministry to the deaf and hearing impaired individuals (which now meets as Athens Deaf Church), launched mission trips around the globe, and co-sponsored a church in west Athens.
Under the leadership of Simms the church has maintained a strong commitment to missions by giving generously through the Cooperative Program. Beech Haven is consistently among the top 40 churches in the state in CP giving.
J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, has lauded Simms as one of Georgia Baptists’ finest pastors. He explained, “His leadership of Beech Haven across many years has been exemplary. Personally, I have known and loved Stewart and Dianne for many years and cherish their friendship.
“I am confident that his many gifts will continue to be used effectively in multiple ways in the years ahead.”
Carol Schimmel, who joined Beech Haven with her husband, Ed, 27 years ago, has held many positions in the church but loves her role as a 5th grade Sunday School teacher best. In reminiscing about her first visit to Beech Haven, Schimmel recounts, “My background was Baptist and Ed’s was Methodist and we knew that having a blended family would bring a lot of trials, but we found a home at Beech Haven the first time we heard Dr. Simms. We knew we were where God wanted us to be. We knew God’s Word was being taught here.”
Sherron Mills has been involved in the music ministry of the church, taught Sunday School and served on many strategic committees at Beech Haven. “I appreciate that the pastor shows us his heart,” he commented. “He challenges us to grow as individuals and as a body of believers and motivates us to reach out to others through Christian love.
“As a preacher his command of the Word is exceptional and his dependence upon our Holy God is evident when he preaches.
“The pastor’s wife, Dianne, is very warm, friendly and easy-going. She is funny and down-to-earth. She is a member of our Sunday School class and adds a lot of great insights to our discussions.
“Dianne is also very missions-minded and has gone on many of our church’s mission trips. She also retired earlier this year and has talked about how retirement will provide new opportunities for both she and Stewart to be on mission in new ways.
“As husband and wife, Stewart and Dianne are very much a team. I would have to say their relationship is a model for married couples to emulate. She is the perfect complement to him. It is clear that the love they have for one another is as fresh now as when they first fell in love. I would say she is truly a Proverbs 31 woman.”
Longtime Beech Haven member Bob Molleur, who has been deacon chairman on several occasions and currently serves as chairman of the personnel committee, is high in his praise of the recently-retired Simms. Molleur recalled, “Stewart held both of my children when they were born. He baptized them. He helped me celebrate the life of my first wife, Paige, when she died in 2000. Stewart is woven into the fabric of my life because he has served the way God called him to serve – as a shepherd.
“Stewart has challenged me to be focused on, and serve, the God who created me. He has challenged me to study God’s Word. He has challenged me to serve in the church and on the mission field. He has challenged me to share Jesus with anyone I come in contact with.”
Molleur continued, “It has been my privilege to work with Stewart in baptizing just about everyone he has baptized at Beech Haven. I helped him get dressed in his waders and robe before each service and then helped him get ready to go back into the service. One of my most cherished services to him was to kneel down and tie his shoes. I knew it was a small thing, but it was a privilege to do it for one who served Him so well.”
On Jan. 8 Beech Haven’s worship center was packed with members and guests for Simms’ final day as pastor of the Athens church. Molleur read a letter from the deacons to the beloved pastor: “Shepherding is not an easy task. That’s why Christ calls only a few. It is a long-term commitment of oneself, time, and energy to a people God has given you to lead. And you have done it well. You can truly say with Jeremiah, ‘Lord, I have not abandoned my job as a shepherd for your people’ (Jer. 17:16 NLT). For that we are grateful.”
As the Simmses face a new chapter in their lives they hope to spend a couple of months resting and worshiping in some churches they have wanted to visit for a while. Simms also expressed an interest in doing some mission work both in and out of the country.
Simms has a heart for the Republic of Benin in West Africa and the Mahi people group in particular. In recent years Beech Haven has invested much in the people of Benin and has seen many people saved, which has resulted in the planting of two churches from which as many as 20 other churches have been started. Benin, Ireland and Alaska are among the places Stewart and Diane Simms would like to do mission work.
Since most pastors never really retire, Simms admitted that in addition to engaging in missions endeavors he would like to continue to preach in revivals, Bible conferences and do pulpit supply work as well as interims.
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