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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jan. 27, 200612:00 PM EST

Last Sunday 'Amen' for Vines

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

One of downtown’s most influential public figures and the institution he has led for almost 24 years are about to go through a major transition.

Dr. Jerry Vines is stepping down as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville and stepping into a new phase of his ministry. He will deliver his last Sunday morning sermon at First Baptist this weekend.

When Vines announced he was leaving the pulpit several months ago, it came as a shock to the membership. But, Vines said he believes it’s time for a change in his life and in the hierarchy of the church.

“I’ve prayed about it for two years,” he said. “I just had a growing conviction that it was time for the church to have younger leadership.

“I’m in good health. I feel like I could go on and be effective for a few more years. But I have always taken the approach that I would rather have people say, ‘Why did he?’ than ‘Why didn’t he?’.”

Vines became co-pastor of the First Baptist church on Ashley Street on July 4, 1982. He joined Dr. Homer Lindsay Jr. and concentrated on further developing the church while increasing its presence not only downtown, but throughout the community and on television.

Duval County Tax Collector Mike Hogan, who joined First Baptist in 1973, was on the church’s Finance Committee when Lindsay made the announcement that Vines was joining him.

“When Dr. Lindsay shared with us that the Lord had laid it on his heart to call Dr. Vines to our church, we were all stunned. He wanted to make sure that we understood that they would be equal in every sense,” said Hogan.

He also recalled the first time he heard the new co-pastor preach.

“Dr. Vines had been to our church several times in revivals and I loved his teachings. I would take copious notes because he is like a professor,” said Hogan. “Dr. Lindsay was very much an introvert, while Dr. Vines is just the opposite, very much an extrovert. Dr. Lindsay was more evangelistic and used great examples and illustrations of real events in his life. Dr. Vines was a pure teacher in my way of thinking.

“Having both of them there was like a double-dip ice cream cone and the church just took off.”

When Lindsay died in February 2000, Vines became the church’s sole pastor. One of the things people said they will remember about his tenure is that Vines stayed the course.

“There’s a crisis in most churches when you lose a pastor,” said Hogan. “But other than a deep hole in everybody’s heart, the church didn’t falter.”

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, who joined First Baptist in 1979, also recalled what happened when the church’s leadership was forced to change.

“Dr. Vines kept the direction and tradition of the Lindsays. He could have taken a different path, but he decided to continue to invest in downtown and continue to grow the church,” he said.

“Dr. Vines had the same heart for downtown Jacksonville that Dr. Lindsay had. He had the same vision for the community,” added Hogan.

Over the years, First Baptist grew and so did its impact on the city. The church has become a sprawling 12-acre campus in the middle of downtown, something Vines said makes him proud.

“We have been — and the church will continue to be — a vital part of downtown,” said Vines. “It made a statement years ago and it continues to make the statement that we are committed to the city of Jacksonville.

“We like to be down in the center of everything so that we’re a part of what’s going on here.”

Putting the First Baptist Church’s Sunday service on live television was something Lindsay started and Vines has continued into the 21st century. The Jan. 15 broadcast debuted the church’s new high-definition TV facility.

“We are very committed to using the latest technology to get out the gospel,” said Vines. “I think we’re the second church in America to go high-def. Joel O’Steen out in Houston beat us by a few months, but we were right up there pretty quick. I’ve got flat screens up there on the pulpit. Man, the difference is just breathtaking.”

Vines added that the new equipment was a $3.5 million investment.

“And you know, our people gave the money. We paid cash for it,” he said.

Another thing that makes Vines proud is the annual Pastor’s Conference, which he and Lindsay started over 20 years ago.

“Our first year, we had 120 pastors attend,” said Vines. “This year, enrollment is exploding. We’re projecting that over 9,000 people from out of town will be coming. That’s a pretty big impact on the city, both downtown and economically. I’ve never seen estimates, but that should bring quite a bit of money into the city.”

Clerk of the Court Jim Fuller has attended the conference and left impressed.

“Last year, we had some of the greatest preachers in the country and people from every state in the union here in Jacksonville for the event,” said Fuller, who has been a First Baptist member since 1983. Fuller added he believes the Pastors Conference has a larger economic impact and brings more visitors to town than any other single event in Jacksonville.

“This year, 9,000 adults will be staying in our hotels and eating in our restaurants,“ said Fuller. “That’s more impact than anything the Chamber of Commerce brings to town.”

Vines said he’s also proud that the church has always paid its own way and pays taxes on much of its prime downtown real estate.

“Every profit-making venture we have here, like our parking garages that we rent out, we pay taxes on. We could probably not have to, but we have chosen to do so. We are a tax-paying citizen downtown,” said Vines.

“One thing I really appreciated was that we always made it a point that if property was not used solely for church functions, we wanted to make sure it was on the tax rolls,” Hogan said. “The church has really been an anchor in that part of the city. I remember what it looked like before the church started buying property. A lot of the properties we purchased were in a sad state of disrepair. We have beautified the area and ratcheted up the value.”

Fuller remembers the days when people questioned whether a church could flourish downtown.

“Years ago, people said you couldn’t have a church in downtown Jacksonville,” said Fuller. “Now the church has a $12 million budget and our kids’ programs are some of the best in the nation.”

After almost a quarter-century of preaching, what’s next for Vines?

“I’m launching what I’m calling Jerry Vines Ministries,” he said. “For the fourth quarter of my life, I’m going to devote myself to preparing materials to help pastors in their ministries. I want to help them with their preaching so the people in the pews can get good, solid Bible material.

“I’m going to be all over everywhere. My ministry in the future is going to be to encourage pastors. I’ll be preaching in churches and I hope to do a great deal of writing.”

“He will be missed, but he will be able to do a lot of good in other places,” said Fuller.

The First Baptist Church will honor Vines with a 500-voice choir and a multi-media presentation, “A Faithful Soldier,” Sunday at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium at 124 W. Ashley Street. The public is invited and admission is free.

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