News 3 Neighbors: Pastor Don Wilhite - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

News 3 Neighbors: Pastor Don Wilhite

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     If ever there was someone who embodies being a good neighbor, it's a pastor, rabbi or priest.  They are called on at all hours to help us when life's unexpected moments confront us.  In this News 3 Neighbors segment, I share the story of a beloved local pastor who passed his mantle on to the next generation after 40 years in the pulpit.

     Don Wilhite was called to pastor Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus in 1974.  At the time the church was located on Thirteenth Avenue.  During his four decades as lead pastor, Calvary moved to its current 56-acre campus on Old Moon Road, added a Christian school, housing for the elderly, and an assisted living home among many other offerings.

     Pastor Don was honored recently during a special homecoming service at his church.  You could tell by the hugs and handshakes just how much he is loved.  Pastor Don started down the road of ministry in 1963.  He was living in Birmingham, Ala. and had no church background or spiritual heritage.  But one day, he listened to a Billy Graham crusade from Los Angeles.  Wilhite says, "When he got through preaching, he told us how to receive Christ in our life, that He would change our life, and boy has He changed our life.  That is an understatement."

     Later at a crusade in Birmingham, Pastor Don got to meet Billy Graham and personally thank him for his influence on his life.

     On this particular Sunday in late April, Pastor Don finds himself passing his mantle to his successor, Jeff Struecker.  Don says Jeff had this special request of him.  "If you would just pray and ask the Lord to give me a double portion of your spirit."  That reminded Pastor Don of the Old Testament story of Elijah and Elisha.  "The closest thing that I could find to a mantle that fell from the senior prophet to the other prophet was a tallit which is a Jewish prayer shawl.  What I wanted to do was find some physical, tangible way for the congregation to see...it is going from me to Jeff.  He is the pastor.  He is the leader."

     Pastor Don says he feels a little like Moses in looking back on his pastorate at Calvary.  "I really do see that all my wanderings around for these 40 years have simply been a preparation for Jeff Struecker to come on and lead the church into a new age that I would never, ever be able to do myself."

     Pastor Don is a neighbor that will be sticking around.  He has been made Pastor Emeritus of Calvary Baptist Church and will continue to have an office there as long as he lives. 

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