The Rev. James Calvin Harris Sr. says for a pastor to stay at one church for 64 years, the place must be special.
And he says the man replacing him after six decades of service at Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church on Old Cusseta Road in Columbus will quickly find that to be true.
"There are a lot of great people at Mount Pilgrim," said the 90-year-old Harris, who now lives with a daughter in Texas. "The main advice I would give the new pastor is to make sure they know they can depend on you."
The Rev. David Stallion Sr. is the new leader of the church that has been in town since 1884.
At Bethesda Baptist Church in Opelika, Ala., the past seven years, Stallion has been on the job at Mount Pilgrim since December and was officially installed Jan. 17.
Speaking of Harris, Stallion remarked, "For me, it is an honor to come and stand in his shoes. I am going to try and build on the legacy of leadership he left behind."
Harris said he does not know much about Stallion, but he said the church would not hire someone to replace him who did not have a lot of ability. It would have to be someone in whom they have a lot of trust.
"I am excited," Stallion said. "This has been a premier church here and I want to build on that status."
A church with several outreach programs, the pastor said he would like to develop even more and provide greater assistance to people in the community. He envisions a church tutorial program evolving into a pre-school and Mount Pilgrim having an after-school program to help children from lower-income families.
The church has approximately 700 members on its roll, with approximately 300 showing up on Sunday. Stallion said he will make an effort to get more young families to join the Mount Pilgrim family.
"We need to grow in that area," he said.
He said he doubled attendance at his former church.
"There was also a spiritual growth," Stallion said. "People became more unified."
So far, the main change at Mount Pilgrim is the way some business is conducted. For example, the order of the service has changed.
"You just have to sell a new way of doing things," Stallion said. "That comes with a new pastor."
The 48-year-old Stallion was raised in Phenix City and attended Central High School. His parents worked in textile mills and he did the same.
He accepted Christ as his savior at age 10 and joined the Bethlehem Baptist Church where his mother sang in the choir.
Stallion has held jobs outside of the church and still works as a supervisor at BancTec, a business process outsourcing company.
He first thought of becoming involved in the ministry in 2001. At the time, he was a musician at Faith Tabernacle Community Church in Columbus.
One Sunday, Stallion was playing the piano. He was getting ready to start "You Won't Leave Here Like You Came in Jesus Name" when he got the inspiration to stand up and talk to the congregation, asking the members if they planned to leave the way they came in.
The Rev. Roy Plummer just watched.
"He recognized my calling," Stallion said.
Still, Stallion was not sure about preaching and prayed a lot about doing so.
He had a conversation with his wife, Tammy, with whom he has three children, and told her he was not sure it was what God wanted him to do with his life.
She asked him how he felt when he got the opportunity to minister. He said he got a burning sensation in his chest.
"That's your answer," she told him.
He said he had never seen himself in the ministry but others who knew him expected it was the way he would go someday.
"Once I got into it, I could see how the Lord blessed me," he said. "I was sure I was in the right place."
He studied at Frontline Theological Seminary in Columbus and Interdenominational Theological Center of Atlanta and served as assistant pastor at Faith Tabernacle Community Church.
Actually, the ministry was not that odd of a career path for Stallion to take.
His grandfather was a pastor. He has four cousins and an uncle who also minister.
Asked what makes a good preacher, the popular speaker at revivals said the ability to communicate. It is something he feels he possesses.
"Teaching is my strong suit," Stallion said. "I love to preach but my true calling is teaching."