BRADENTON -- Senior Pastor Don E. White has done his share of preaching in his lifetime.
Sixty-one years to be exact.
"I joke that I started at 4," said the 81-year-old spiritual leader at Good Shepherd Church of the Brethren, 6323 13th St. Court E.
His final sermon in that capacity comes Sunday.
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White is retiring, 35 years after he and wife, Beckie, started the congregation in what was then a big horse pasture, overgrown with weeds and bushes.
"It's been a long journey, but I've been so blessed," he said. "I went from a two-room log cabin to lifting Christ."
"It's been a rewarding experience, but it's time to let someone else take over," his wife said.
A native of Greenville, Tenn., White was born to parents who were sharecroppers. An only child, he helped farm corn, tobacco and wheat before moving onto another piece of land every few years.
"I was the product of a hillbilly family by the grace of God," he said.
Christianity wasn't a big part of his early life, but that changed one summer on a baseball diamond, of all places.
"I was an 18-year-old right fielder playing amateur baseball and the catcher brought me to church and I became a Christian," White said. "On Sept. 15, 1951, I told God I would be a minister."
What about baseball?
"I could catch anything that came my way, but I couldn't hit," he said.
White found out he could preach, though.
Sunday services. Revivals. Guest preacher at 17 different denominations from coast to coast. You name it.
Being compassionate and an innate people person made White an inspiring instrument of God's will.
"The thing I sense so often is the need for being loved like you are, where you are, who you are and the knowledge you can become by the grace of God a new
person," he said. "That's been so important to my ministry."
Associate Pastor Kenneth Davis has witnessed his mentor's gift the past 14 and a half years and knows he has mighty robes to fill.
"He's preached two years longer than I'm alive," he said. "Its a testament of his desire to serve Christ and preach the word wherever he was called. His most endearing quality is he treated everybody as family, making everyone who walked away knew they were loved."
Two sources of White's inspiration are in his office.
One is a painting of Christ smiling.
"So many people see him a stern, negative person," White said. "We work on a premise of joy, love, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration."
The other is a garden statue of St. Francis of Assisi.
"He exhibited a lot of care for the poor, lonely and nature," White said. "As a boy who chopped corn in the mountains of east Tennessee, it came natural."
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: Good Shepherd Church of the Brethren
Where: 6323 13th St. Court E., Bradenton
When: 10:30 a.m. Sunday