Pastor Willie Hill had a big surprise for his congregation on Easter Sunday.
Standing before a large gathering at Greater Beallwood Baptist Church in Columbus, he announced he was retiring that day and was passing the baton of leadership to youth pastor Adrian Chester.
"My wife didn't even know it was coming," said a smiling Hill.
Chester was caught off guard. "I asked him if he was sure and he said yes."
Speaking at his home earlier this week, the 73-year-old Hill said he figured 28 years as Beallwood pastor was enough.
"I am proud of where we are now, especially considering where we were when I became pastor," Hill said.
According to Hill, the church has a young congregation and now has a good young pastor to take it to the next level.
"He relates better to them," Hill said.
The 24-year-old Chester first came to Beallwood as a member when he was a teen and returned to the church after getting his education at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tenn.
Hill said he has known since Chester was a boy that he would make a fine pastor.
Chester said Hill recognized his passion for the ministry and that he has learned much from him through the years.
Asked what advice Hill had given him about leading the church, Chester replied, "He told me to treat all people the same, even the ones who may not have my best interests at heart. He said to love and nurture everyone."
The transition has been smooth. "I go to him for advice, not approval," Chester said.
Hill said the church will remain strong as long as it stays Bible-based, Christ-centered and Holy-Spirit-led.
Hill lives with Helen, his wife of 53 years, in north Columbus. It is the same area in which he was raised.
"It was a cow farm then," Hill said.
He never liked working with cows, he said, but he had no choice.
He did not mind doing other work. As a youth, he was cutting hair, hanging drywall and laying brick. He quit Carver High School in the ninth grade. "I thought I was grown," Hill said.
As a young man, Hill left for Michigan, where the pay for laying brick was double what it was here.
He was drafted into the Army and served a year in Vietnam.
"I was glad to make it back," he said.
Hill got his General Equivalency Diploma while still in the military.
"That was a blessing," he said.
Hill attended Chattahoochee Valley Community College and Troy University. He got a degree in criminology but never planned to go into law enforcement.
"The courses I took in sociology and psychology came in handy when I became a pastor. They prepared me to work with people," he said.
Hill would later study theology and earned a degree from American Baptist College.
As a member at Beallwood, he got the calling to preach but fought it for a long time.
"It was heavy burden. When I finally decided to accept the calling, people could tell a difference in my demeanor," he said.
He preached for less than a year at a small church on River Road that no longer exists. When he took over at Beallwood, the church was in dire straits.
"We were about broke," Hill said.
The church grew under his guidance. On most Sundays, there are 350 or more in attendance.
While serving as pastor, Hill also worked as a building contractor. He was in charge in 2005 when the new sanctuary was built and the old sanctuary was converted into a fellowship hall.
"I didn't charge the church a dime," he said. He said he never thought about leaving Beallwood.
"I felt a need to be at Beallwood even when the money wasn't there," he said.
Hill was asked what he liked most about being a pastor.
"I enjoyed helping people who were having a problem," he said. "It was never too early or too late for someone to call me. I would go to them. I might still come now if somebody calls but I'd tell them the pastor has to be there."
The father of two sons said he has peace of mind and is enjoying his time off. He strums his guitar and makes muscadine wine.
"I play golf about every day," he said. "I need to walk for exercise so I figure I might as well hit a ball."