The Rev. David Howle is retiring -- again.
The first time was in 2002 following 30 years as pastor at Edgewood Baptist Church in Columbus.
"I thought I was finished," he said.
But when Ladonia Baptist Church in Phenix City lost its pastor that same year, Howle agreed to fill in on an interim basis.
And he has been there since.
"I was only expecting to be at Ladonia a month, maybe two," he said, laughing.
On Mother's Day, Howle will deliver his final sermon at Ladonia.
"I know when I first started working in Ladonia some folks at Edgewood were upset," he said. "They thought if I was going to keep preaching, I should still be at Edgewood."
But he saw Ladonia as a part-time job.
Also, he never really left the Columbus church. He has kept an office there and serves as minister to senior adults. It is something he plans to continue to do after leaving Ladonia.
"He may retire, but he will never stop working to serve the Lord," said his daughter, Christy Burnell. She is one of five children of Howle and his wife, Carole.
"As children, we sacrificed time with our dad, but as we grow older, we see the importance of sharing him," she said. "He loves people and people feel loved by him. To him, every person is as important as the other. He is not a perfect man but one who lives what he believes and is a good shepherd to his flock."
She said recently a needy couple was having car trouble and knocked on the door of the house where the family was having dinner. While her husband and brother worked on the car, Howle ministered to the couple.
"I saw him giving them some money," she said.
Howle said his plans include spending more time with his 17 grandchildren.
Howle, who turns 80 on Friday, said that during a long career, he has conducted more than 500 weddings and 1,000 funerals.
"It seems like he's been doing a funeral every week this last year," Burnell said.
Howle said this has a been a special year for him.
"I asked the Lord to give me the strength and the health to pastor until 80," he said.
He said a lot of demands are made on a pastor but he has always loved the work.
"I have never minded being called upon," he said. "Pastors need to be out among the people working."
Howle, the youngest of five children, was born and raised in Oxford, Ala.
He said he felt a calling from God when he was in high school.
"I was very active in the church youth group," he said.
But he didn't particularly want to preach. He thought he might become a religious education director.
"My mother had three boys and would always say she hoped God would call on one of her sons to be a preacher," Howle said.
He would suggest that one of his brothers would enjoy the job.
An athlete, he thought the best way for him to deliver an important message might be as a coach.
A close high school friend had decided to be a preacher and it was then that Howle began to consider that vocation.
One day, Howle asked God for a sign.
"I told the Lord that in my heart, I was willing to do it and that if he was talking to me, I want to feel a chill. I then felt a really big chill," Howle said.
Howle attended Howard University, now Samford, in Birmingham, Ala. He then attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
In 1954, when he was just a 20-year-old student, he worked as a pastor in a small Alabama church.
However, it was not the first time he had
given a sermon. He did that at 18. He laughed at the memory.
"I wrote it and thought it would take 25 minutes. It lasted eight minutes." Howle said.
He has led several churches in Indiana, Alabama and Georgia.
From 1963-1969 he experienced something completely different. He served as a Southern Baptist missionary in South Korea where he oversaw about 150 churches,
"It was a very undeveloped country at that time," Howle said. "I love chocolate and you couldn't even get a candy bar."
Even though he was preaching, he wanted to return home and work with one congregation. His wife, who was planning to do missionary work before they married, wanted to stay.
"The last year was tough," he said.
Carole Howle currently conducts a ministry at Damascus Way, a shelter for women and children operated by the Valley Rescue Mission. Burnell is a recovery case worker there and hopes to have her father come and read to the women.
"She is just as giving as my father," Burnell said of her mother. "My father certainly could not have accomplished all he has if she had not backed him up."
After returning from Korea in 1969, Howle went to Baxley, Ga., to serve as pastor of the First Baptist Church, where he stayed until fall 1972 when he came to Edgewood.
At Edgewood, the congregation grew as large as 1,400 people. He said there were not as many churches in the area as at the present time.
"People would come from all over to Edgewood," he said.
The church began a school, Christian Heritage, but because of finances it closed.
He said the size of the congregation at Ladonia has about tripled since he arrived.
"There are a lot of people moving into the area. It's growing," he said.
He said it bothers him to see fewer people active in the church nationwide, that too many are coming just for the social aspect, or out of tradition.
"They ask about music programs and sports teams, Nothing is wrong with that as long as that is not the only reason for joining," he said. "The purpose of church is to reach people for Christ. People should come to church seeking spiritual nourishment."