Terry served 13 years at Greenwell Springs
The Rev. Dennis Terry said he had a Holy Spirit-inspired epiphany in the middle of a sermon three weeks ago and will be preaching his last sermons at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church on Sunday morning and evening.
Terry, 55, has been the church’s lead pastor for 13 years and has seen Greenwell Springs Baptist grow from an average attendance of 250 to about 1,400, he said. He will be moving next week to shepherd a relatively new church, Family Baptist in Huntsville, Ala.
His surrender to God’s calling, he said, happened last month while he was preaching at a revival service at a struggling church in Pensacola, Fla.
“I told them, if you want God to bless your church, and if you want God to bless you as an individual, you have to acknowledge God and worship God and obey God,” Terry said on Wednesday. “It was in the middle of that sermon the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and said, ‘You’re asking these people to obey me and yet you yourself are not willing to obey me in what I’ve put on your heart to do.’ ”
The Huntsville church had been after him for about five months, he said, but he’d been refusing the calling.
“I actually broke down and said, ‘OK Lord, as hard as this is, to leave my church, my children, my grandchildren, I’ll obey,” Terry said. “When I did that it, was like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders, so I know obedience is better than sacrifice.”
Terry has been carrying a heavy burden since March 18, when he stirred a national controversy during a visit by then-presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. During that Sunday evening service, Terry preached what became known as his “Get Out!” sermon that was attended by many national TV and print reporters following Santorum.
Heavily edited video clips of his patriotic declaration that “If you don’t love America and don’t like what we stand for, get out!” went viral on the Internet and across television news channels.
“That was not a slap toward anybody’s faith,” Terry clarified a few days later. “I didn’t mean that if you disagree with me get out. I love my country. I don’t want people coming into my country and changing our Constitution, changing our laws. I still, with all my heart, believe our Founding Fathers were godly men. They were imparted with wisdom from God when they wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.”
Terry and the church were bombarded with thousands of hate calls and emails for weeks. In fact, Terry said this week, “I just had another one last night — terrible, hateful things!”
Terry also attracted national attention when in 2006, he invited the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority and president of Liberty University to dedicate the church’s new $6 million building. Anti-Falwell demonstrators were expected but none showed.
Falwell, who died in May 2007, told The Advocate at that time that he wasn’t concerned about what others think of his words.
“I speak the truth, as does your pastor,” referring to Terry.
Family Baptist, a year-old church planted by Southern Baptist home missionaries, averages about 265 attendance in a rented building that seats about 400, Terry said. The congregation recently purchased 30 acres of land and held off constructing a building until the church had a pastor, he said.
Greenwell Springs Baptist has a staff of several other pastors who will take over until the church finds a new senior pastor, he said.
“I’ve always believed the best time for a pastor to step aside is when things are going good and that’s true here at Greenwell Springs,” Terry said. “The Sunday I stepped down we had nine join the church. It is just confirmation: God is letting this church know it is not about a preacher; things are still going to be OK regardless if Dennis Terry is here or not.”
Greenwell Springs Baptist member and chaplain Ronnie Langlois, said the church accepts the pastor’s decision.
“The response of the congregation when he made his announcement was sadness,” Langlios said, “but it was immediately followed by expressions of ‘If it is God’s call, we will miss you. We’re glad you are honoring God’s call on your life.’
“That’s the way I feel too,” Langlois said. “I’m gonna miss him, but we don’t go to church to worship a man. If God called him to Huntsville, we want him to be in Huntsville and be doing the things God called him to do.”
Terry acknowledged his time at Greenwell Springs Baptist “has been wonderful. I actually thought I’d retire here.
“It’s hard to leave the church. I’m leaving my four children and my four precious grandchildren are all here,” Terry said, “but I guess God has other plans for me. This is all new for me — whole new adventure.”
A moving van is expected on Monday and he plans to preach in Alabama on Aug. 26.
“I’m a peace; my family is at peace; the church is at peace; the Lord is good,” Terry said.