First Baptist Church of Havelock, N.C., recently celebrated the ministry of Don and Sara Hadley at the close of his 45 years as their pastor. The Aug. 25 celebration drew 200 church members, community leaders and friends to the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.
BR photo by K. Allan Blume
Don Hadley jokes with a well-wisher after his retirement celebration Aug. 25.
Hadley began serving the church Sept. 2, 1973, and preached his last sermon as pastor Sept. 2, 2018.
David Phelps, associational missionary of the Atlantic Baptist Association (ABA) read a letter from Milton Hollifield, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, who was unable to attend.
“The legacy that you leave will be one of love for the Lord and your fellow man, which has served as an example for everyone who has known you,” Hollifield said.
The letter commended Hadley for his leadership at the church, the ABA, the state convention and his “positive impact on the lives of many people. … From serving the Marines and the Navy personnel at Cherry Point Marine Air Base to discipling chaplains and numerous pastors, you have provided consistent and diligent counsel for many.”
Phelps also read a letter from Keith Hamilton, ABA’s previous associational missionary who now serves with Baptist ministries in Georgia.
“While your tenure at First Baptist Church and the association have impacted so many lives, your personal investment in developing military ministries within local churches was profound,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton said he used military ministry training learned from Hadley in his work in Georgia and at military installations in other countries, including eight years in Germany. He commended Hadley for his “passion for seeing our military personnel experience a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Phelps noted that the average tenure of a Southern Baptist pastor is less than two years, making Hadley’s record “quite remarkable.”
“The church is like a ship,” Phelps said. “It has a mission to perform. … The church is not a cruise ship. It is a battleship. Dr. Hadley, you have stood in the pulpit faithfully for 45 years.”
He noted the balance between the pastoral and prophetic roles in which a pastor “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. … Your personal integrity, fidelity to the word of God and integrity of your private life has made a positive influence in this community.
“Your influence in the Atlantic Baptist Association is without compare,” Phelps added. “You’ve served every position in the association except director of missions and administrative assistant.”
Steve Epperson, a retired Navy chaplain, now pastor of Cherry Point Baptist Church, shared his strong respect and love for the Hadleys. He commended them for being an “amazing” husband and wife team who made their family a priority and “made an indelible mark on a town, a church and thousands of military personnel.
“Don Hadley recognized years ago that the military and the [Cherry Point] base is a people group that need to be reached,” said Epperson. “He has demonstrated great commitment to this group.”
Hadley’s ministry on the basketball court was a priority. “The Marines were surprised that this ‘elderly’ man could play so well and beat them,” Epperson continued. “His love of basketball was a great vehicle to witness to young and old marines who greatly respected Dr. Hadley.”
The church presented the retiring couple with a number of gifts, including two season tickets to UNC Chapel Hill men’s basketball games.
Other guest speakers included a former mayor of the town, military personnel, church members, staff and family. Music was featured by the pastor and wife team of Havelock Korean Baptist Church and representatives of the Havelock Community Church.
The Hadleys’ two children, their spouses and grandchildren were recognized at the event. Their son, Dane, serves as pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Raleigh. He told the Biblical Recorder, “My Dad’s most remarkable accomplishment is the integrity he consistently modeled in both the church and our home. He lives what he preaches. I pray God’s grace would enable me to model the same consistency for my own family.”
A native of Evansville, Ind., the senior Hadley holds degrees from the University of Evansville, Oregon State University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
He served as a campus minister and pastored several churches before coming to Havelock. In 1992 his book Ministry with the Military was published by Baker Book House.