In my book, the word “unique” is an absolute. There is no “kind of” unique or “somewhat” unique. Unique is unique. Unmatched. Unequalled. Nonpareil. One of a kind. Dr. G. Gilman Watson is unique. There is absolutely nobody like him.
Dr. Gil, aka, The World’s Greatest Preacher, is retiring this week after 49 years as a Methodist minister, the last 23 at Northside United Methodist Church in Atlanta and moving to his heaven on Earth, a special piece of turf known as Pleasant Hill in Kingston, Georgia, just outside Rome.
Gil Watson is kind and caring as befits a man of God. He can also be a bit irreverent at times, reminding you that he is a human being who doesn’t take himself too seriously. In a Methodist denominational hierarchy rife with rules and regulations and no small amount of politicking, he marches to his own drum.
Dr. Gil is always running late. He refuses to wear a watch to remind himself he is running late because he already knows he is. He was an athlete good enough to earn a football scholarship to Tulane University before an injury derailed those plans. He is a horticulturist, a highly regarded after-dinner speaker and raconteur, a biblical scholar, Southern historian, college professor and one of the youngest guest chaplains in the history of the United States Senate. The list goes on and on.
Is he perfect? Well, there is this slight problem with his allegiance to a certain engineering school in Atlanta, but a couple of his kids are graduates of the University of Georgia which proves that God not only has a sense of humor, He just might be a Bulldog as well.
College preferences aside, it is a known theological fact that God really loves Dr. Gil. So do I, even though I think he has spent an inordinate amount of time in the pulpit talking about me and my sins. He claims he wasn’t singling me out, but who else has done all the stuff I’ve done? And how did he find out?
I have been a Methodist all my life, as was my momma before me. I have known some outstanding preachers who were not much on the ministry part of the job — visiting those in the hospital, the bereaved and shut-ins — and I’ve known some very fine ministers who couldn’t preach their way out of a wet paper bag. Dr. Gil is the total package.
If there is a Guinness Book of Records entry on most hospital visits made on rainy nights after two-hour budget meetings by a minister who had every reason to go home and recharge his batteries, Dr. Gil’s name has to be at the top of the list.
Despite a congregation that numbers more than 6,000 members, he is always there when you need him. He was there up-close and personal when we lost a grandson a few years ago. He cried with us and prayed with us and got us through the darkest period of our life as he has done with so many others throughout his ministry.
When not preaching the birds out of the trees and having to deal with the likes of me, missions are a great passion for Gil Watson, be it the orphanage and school he got up-and-running in India or delivering coats and blankets to less fortunate souls in Atlanta while they munch on hot dogs via the iconic Varsity Restaurant and courtesy of this good man.
Dr. Gil ends every service every Sunday with this reminder: “Love wasn’t put in your heart to stay. Love isn’t love until you give it away.” Needless to say, he has dispensed a lot of love throughout his ministry and he has received a lot in return.
I’ve always been proud to claim him but never more so than when Gov. George E. Perdue invited him to the Capitol to pray for rain during the severe drought of 2007. George E. and I have not always agreed on everything — or even much — but we can agree that Dr. Gil was an inspired choice for the job. When he got through praying, even atheists were donning their hip boots.
And now Gil Watson is retiring. Hard to imagine. Dr. Gil is not only The World’s Greatest Preacher, he has been a huge part of my life for a good part of my life and I am going to miss him. I thank God that he crossed my path.