The Rev. James Battle cannot understand why Peeks Chapel Baptist Church is making a fuss about his 30-year pastoral anniversary there this month. To him, he is simply doing his job.
"I’m still striving to be what the Lord called me to be, so I don’t want to claim all the credit," he said. "My job is to try to reach as many people to come to Christ."
A favorite scripture on his business card, Revelations 2:7, reads in part, "He that hath an ear, let him hear..."
Still, members want to honor him with a celebration on May 16 at 3 p.m. at the church, 3185 Old Salem Road SE, Conyers.
Former slaves started Peeks Chapel around 1868. They changed its original name, Pine Bluff Baptist, in 1901 to thank William L. Peek, who gave the land.
In 1980, Peeks Chapel hired Battle. He had never been in the area but decided one day to drive past the church and saw a large family reunion outside. As he watched them in his rearview mirror, something made him turn back. He got out of his car, introduced himself and learned about the pastor vacancy from Deacon John Williams.
The Rev. Aldren Sadler Sr., the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office chaplain, was on the hiring committee. The church had about 100 members and was in debt from construction cost overruns. Now, it has about 125 members.
"He was invited to come back and preach, everything went well, and so we selected him," Sadler recalled. "We thought he could pull some things together. The church needed someone to be a good leader."
Battle attended Carver Bible College in Atlanta. In his early years, he preached in Florida, the Carolinas and Georgia. Before pastoring Peeks Chapel, he led Union Springs Baptist Church in Norwood and Greater Level Hill Baptist Church in Crawfordville.
Neither church had services every Sunday, so Battle shuttled between them. His earliest memories are of struggle and the elder ministers who let him preach from their pulpits.
"They’re all gone now," Battle said. "Some of them were very instrumental in helping me. When you’re that young, you need someone to take you under their wings."
When asked his age, he declined joking, "I tell people I’m as old as Adam."
Sadler recognizes Battle as one of his mentors. Because of his influence, Sadler is a pastor and has developed four churches.
Another major accomplishment — and challenge — during Battle’s tenure was paying off the church’s two mortgages early. The church burned the papers in seven years after major fundraising and saving.
Battle said his other career highlight was seeing a new public school named after the church. Peeks Chapel Elementary, at 2800 Avalon Parkway, opened in 2001 just blocks from the church. Battle said the dedication prayer.
With its eye on future growth, Peeks Chapel has purchased land off Spring Road.
"I hadn’t planned to be at Peeks Chapel 30 years," Battle said. "God sent me here and so I’ll be ready to go when He takes me away."