The Blue Ridge mountains will be a little bluer this summer, at least for me. And as the fog lifts and is burned away by the August morning sun, there’ll be one less mountaineer from Haywood County. On Aug. 4, I sat in Beaver Dam Baptist Church, and we celebrated the homegoing of Paul Mitchell Sorrells. He became a native of Cleveland County 51 years ago, and although he has not lived in the mountains since he married June Baldwin, from Franklin, in 1960. But there’s a part of Paul that will always live in Haywood County.
The mountain influence lived deep within Paul the rest of his life. June settled into life as a school teacher, and Paul had a dual career as a Baptist minister and an English teacher. It was in his English classroom at Gardner-Webb College, now university, that I met Paul in 1972, as I began preparing for the ministry.
I took-a-liking to Paul right away. I smiled as I watched him with his out-of-date crewcut and his books tightly tucked under his left arm, taking long strides across campus like he was crossing the side of a mountain. He said when he was in college he walked in the grass, instead of walking on the sidewalks to keep from wearing out his shoes.
I quickly learned it was not just the soles of his shoes he was careful about. He was the epitome of frugal.
Often when he saw me walking to the snack shop across the street from the college, he’d say, “Hey, Doc! How about helping me get my cows back into the pasture.” Once I’d chased the cows into safety, I would return to the classroom, wet with sweat. I often reminded him that his cows wouldn’t be jumping the fence if he’d spend the money for a decent fence. He agreed, but never did.
I learned from Paul that most good sermons include a little humor. His sermons sparkled with humor and stories from his life as a mountaineer and country pastor.
Paul Mitchell Sorrells
One morning some years ago I was listening as he offered his version of the story of Jonah at an old church in Gaffney, S.C. “When Jonah came out of that whale’s mouth,” Paul proclaimed, “he was running so fast that you could have shot marbles on his coat-tail.”
His rare blend of Bible knowledge, spiritual wisdom and down-home common sense helped his listeners remember the truth of God’s Word and transformed many a life.
Pastor Paul Sorrells become a legend in Cleveland County. In his 60-plus years as a minister he served 18 churches as interim pastor and was named Pastor Emeritus at Beaver Dam Baptist in Shelby, where he served for 17 years. He also taught at Fruitland Baptist Bible College in Hendersonville for 23 years. Someone said, “The old preachers are gone, but not forgotten, and if we preachers don’t watch the way we preach and live, we’ll be forgotten, but not gone.”
My good friend Paul is missing today, but he is not lost, because we cannot lose someone when we know where they are. Jesus said, “Where I am, there you may be also.”
When Paul died, at 83 years of age, Aug. 1, a part of me died also, but he also left something behind that will always be a part of me. I now feel a greater desire to be unselfish, giving, loving and a true friend to others – as he had been to me.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dennis Hester is the minister of pastoral care and outreach at Konnoak Baptist Church in Winston-Salem and can be reached at [email protected].)