The routine was always the same. At 8 p.m., Emmett Aniton's grandfather would gather the family members together and they would get on their knees and pray.
"My grandfather could not read or write but he was a deacon in the church," Aniton said. "He was a good Christian man who knew right from wrong."
He was also the first to tell his grandson that he would grow up to be a preacher someday. The boy, however, wasn't so sure.
The Rev. Emmett Aniton, 73, is quickly closing in on 35 years as the pastor at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Columbus. He has led the congregation since April 1979.
He is the eighth pastor at the institution, which was established as Friendship Baptist Church in 1892 at its current location at Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street. The only pastor with a longer tenure there is the Rev. Henry Wright, who served from 1901-1944.
An historic marker outside the brick building reads, "In this church on the corner, everybody is somebody."
The church's mission is to be "Christ centered, people oriented and empowered by the Holy Spirit to tell the world about Jesus."
Aniton was just 2 years old when his father died. With the help of relatives, his mother raised him and his two siblings on a farm in Oneonta, Ala., where Aniton milked cows, plowed fields and picked cotton.
"We raised all kinds of stuff, sugar cane, corn, sweet potatoes," he said. "I think every child should spend some time on a farm and learn where things come from, how things grow."
On the farm, Aniton developed a strong work ethic.
While his grandfather was the first to predict he would spend his life in the pulpit, he was not the only one.
His high school principal had a vision that Aniton would be a church leader and told him so. Aniton was also told by the principal that he needed to get a good education.
His uncle dropped him off at Selma University in Selma, Ala.
"I had $25 in my pocket and knew nothing about Selma," Aniton recalled.
He worked several jobs to pay for his college education and received some scholarship money, as well.
While a student at Selma, Aniton would go and listen to a young preacher named Martin Luther King Jr., who would give sermons at various churches.
"He was a dynamic speaker," Aniton said. "At the time, I just saw him as a preacher, not a civil rights leader."
Aniton was arrested in Selma with others for unlawful assembly during a demonstration for voting rights. He recalled the police officer using a cattle prod on him.
While he was a student, he finally acted on the calling to preach that he had felt for a long time.
"I didn't hear an audible voice like some say they do,"
Still, he was concerned about getting up in front of people and giving a sermon. He said he was unsure what to say.
But a Bible passage encouraged him. It was Jeremiah 1:4.
"Then the word of the Lord came unto me saying, before I formed thee in the belly, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child but the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child; for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee though shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with here to deliver three, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put words in thy mouth."
"I knew the Lord would tell me what to say," Aniton said. "I wrote a letter to my pastor and told him I wanted to preach the next time I came home."
And, he did. "It was Jan.1, 1961," he said.
When he graduated from Selma with a theology degree, he was drafted into the Army. He served at Fort Polk and Fort Eustis then did a tour in Vietnam.
"I felt blessed to get back safe," he said. "I was not a chaplain, but I still found time to do some preaching there."
After getting out of the Army, Aniton led First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Ala., from 1966-1979.
He has been married to his wife, Dorothy, a pastor's daughter, since 1965. They have three children. She is a former teacher at Spencer High School.
Aniton likes having been associated with one church for a long time.
"Some preachers move around but I don't think I would like that. Continuity is important," he said. "I feel like family to the members here. I have baptized babies of people whom I baptized as a baby."
He said through the years changes had to be made. Services have become more contemporary.
"We didn't throw out the old stuff, though," Aniton said, smiling. "To reach the young people you have to be flexible."
Outreach has grown at the church. There are more than 40 ministries available for members.
"I want everyone to have an opportunity to serve, to do something in the church or the community," he said.
Aniton has also served his community.
He has served on the board of directors of both the Pastoral Institute and Liberty Theatre, and he has been the president of the Muscogee County Clergy Association. He has also done work with the YMCA and Urban League of Greater Columbus.
In 1983, he was appointed by Georgia Gov. Joe Frank Harris to serve on the legislation committee of the Georgia Council of Developmental Disabilities.
In 1997, a resolution in the Georgia House of Representatives honored him for his community service.
"Working for good is important," he said.