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Exactly 45 years after his first sermon at Clymersville Baptist, members of Charles Kelley’s congregation gathered to wish him a happy 86th birthday and recognize four decades of service to the Rockwood church.
Kelley preached his first sermon there on Aug. 13, 1967, when Clymersville was a mission of Rockwood First Baptist Church. Back then, there were nine members in the congregation. Today, Clymersville Baptist has around 300 members.
In all, Kelley has spent 63 years in the ministry. He stepped down in 2006 as pastor but preached sermons at 16 different churches during his “retirement.”
“Pastors retire, preachers don’t.” he said during the birthday lunch in his honor at the church family life center.
Kelley said what has meant most to him over the year has been “working for the Lord with the people I’ve had the privilege to work with.”
“God has blessed the churches I’ve pastored,” Kelley said.
A native of Wayne County in Middle Tennessee, Kelley was attending Mill Baptist in Harriman when he came before the church on Mother’s Day in 1949 to announce his call to the ministry.
Before the year was out, he would become pastor of Beech Park Baptist in Oliver Springs, though he was only 23 years old.
In 1954, Kelley was named pastor at Pond Grove Baptist in Rockwood, where he remained until 1957 when he went to Morgan County to take the helm at Oakdale First Baptist.
Ten years later, Kelley came back to Rockwood where he would be a fixture at Clymersville for the next 39 years.
Earlier this year, Kelley came out of retirement to lead Clymersville Baptist until new pastor Chad Morrison took the pulpit in late July.
“We hope we’ll have him here as long as we’ve had Preacher Kelley,” church member Vivian Payne said while helping to serve at the birthday luncheon.
Morrison joked, “You keep feeding me like this, and you will.”
Over the past three decades, Kelley estimates he has preached 40-50 funerals annually, including 28 this year.
He has also created a legacy of preachers. His son, Jasper Greg Kelly, is pastor of Central Baptist of Alcoa.
The husband of his oldest daughter Charlotte Burris is a pastor in Ohio, while their son, Jeff, is a pastor in Clarksville.