Wilfred “Willie” Overton was born to be a preacher. It just took him 18 years to realize it.
Overton has been pastor at Draper Valley Baptist Church for the past 53 years – having arrived in Draper 53 years ago this past Sunday.
Last Sunday’s service was his last at the church as pastor, and his congregation and family members gave him quite the sendoff.
“They pulled one on me,” Overton, 80, said. “I knew something was going on, but I didn’t think it was going to be as extensive as it turned out to be. They contacted a lot of my friends, even old college friends. Had a full house. It was very surprising. We had a good day and I really enjoyed it. Channel 10 was even there. I never anticipated that until my daughter called and told me.”
His message for the special service? “Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 – To everything there is a season,” Overton said. “Season means beginning and an end.”
For Overton, his season spreading the gospel began in April 1957. Born in Fieldale near Martinsville on Aug. 12, 1938, he grew up in nearby Collinsville.
“I joined the Baptist church, under duress more than anything else,” Overton laughed – something he and anyone talking with him very long will usually wind up doing.
“Not to speak evil of those folks, but they were anxious when I wasn’t, but they meant well,” he recalled.
“When I was 18 years old, I attended church with a friend of mine. The main reason I went with him was there was a girl he wanted to see, and the only way her parents would let him see her was in church, and he needed some moral support,” Overton remembered.
That morning the Lord spoke to his heart. It was 1957.
“While I was raised in the church I didn’t know a lot of things,” Overton said. “It wasn’t so much about ignorance, it was just meaningless to me.”
Overton said the first time he was ever really moved by the gospel was that morning in that church.
“The preacher didn’t know me and I didn’t know him. I guess he took one look at me and thought I needed salvation,” Overton laughed. “As a result of that morning I called on the Lord as my Savior.”
“From then I started going to church regularly and they were teaching me and it was like eating chocolate cake! I had that kind of interest in the scriptures,” Overton said.
He started reading the Bible and it became a habit.
“The first year I was saved I read the Bible twice,” he recalled. “I cannot tell you how many times I have read it since then, but that number is way up there.”
To really know the Bible, Overton says, you must read it.
“You can listen to preachers preach and Sunday school teachers teach, you can go to seminary in Bible college and all that, but unless you apply yourself in the book – in the Bible – you’re never going to get ahold of it. It’s like someone working a gold mine in a sense. This will sound strange, but you just keep digging and you get a little nugget here and a little nugget there, and one day you hit the vein. These things begin to become not only real to you, but you begin to grasp them and understand them and now you got the gold,” Overton exclaimed.
Once he started reading the Bible, he did so constantly. He kept a Bible in his pocket and if he was eating lunch he had it out reading it. Something he says he still does to this day.
In 1960 the Lord called Overton to the ministry.
“I preached my first sermon in my home church,” he remembered.
“The pastor asked me about a month ahead of time. He said, ‘you’re going off to Bible college, so now you need to preach to us before you go.’ I was going to Piedmont Bible College. I had already been accepted,” Overton said. He still has the old notes from that very first sermon.
“We started the service at 7 o’clock and had singing as usual. Then the preacher said, ‘it’s time for you.’ I got so absorbed in that. Finally I quit and the preacher said to me, ‘you know what time it is? Do you know you’ve preached an hour and 20 minutes?’ That’s what happens when you really get into it,” said. Overton.
Overton went on the Piedmont. Guess you could say he did pretty well for himself. He has two degrees from the college, and was presented with an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Breckbill Bible College after reaching his 50th year as pastor at Draper Valley.
“They considered me faithful and honorable enough to give it to me and I’m appreciative of that,” he said.
Overton and his wife, Reba were married in 1961, and their first daughter came along three years later.
In 1964 one of the professors at Piedmont came to Overton and wanted him to take a church as an interim pastor.
“He thought it would be good for me. I had been preaching off and on,” Overton said, and he took on the challenge.
“It was an interesting experience,” Overton said.
But the Lord’s plan for the young preacher from Fieldale started becoming clear in mid-February of 1966.
“My professor called me in and said, ‘I got a place for you to preach on Sunday. It’s up in Pulaski County, Virginia at a church called Draper Valley Baptist,’” Overton said.
Overton made the trip from Winston-Salem to Draper to preach. But what Overton thought might be a one-time assignment turned into something more.
“Two weeks later they asked me to be interim pastor,” he said. “That’s 100 miles from Winston Salem and I told them, ‘You folks better let me think about this. I’m not sure I can handle it because of the drive.’
“I finally consented to doing it and enjoyed it. That was 53 years ago this past Sunday. I have never had any better reception in a church than I got that day. I’m not joking. They treated me like a king, ready to crown me,” Overton said.
While things were going well, being an interim pastor of a church 100 miles away, taking 12 hours at school to finish his degree, and working third shift at a trucking company pushed Overton pretty hard.
“I had more doing than I could get done,” he laughed.
One Sunday morning, a church member – the late Clarence Cook – approached Willie with some news.
“Willie, the church voted unanimously this morning to call you as our pastor,” Cook told Overton.
“I said, ‘what?’” Overton exclaimed. “I told him I had another year of school, I live in Winston-Salem. We better think about this.”
Overton consulted a number of pastors he knew, some from this area. One was Dewey Weaver.
“He was at Piedmont and he encouraged me to consider it and I’ll never forget what he said. ‘It will be good boot training,’ he told me,” said Overton.
He came back and talked to the church members and told them that as long as they understood that he may have to possibly leave abruptly, he was willing to give it a try if they were willing to work with him.
“I couldn’t be here on Wednesday nights so Clarence took care of that – he wasn’t a bad preacher you know. In the summer I could do that, but not when school was in,” said Overton.
“We had a good first year. Things went well. We were able to get a lot of indebtedness paid off. I stuck it out and they treated my wife and daughter and I like royalty,” Overton said.
“In 53 years we have never had a fight in a business meeting. I believe that any two men who are Christians can solve any problem. The new pastor who is coming can’t hardly believe that,” Overton said.
“God has blessed me in that way. I’ve always tried to be a peace maker. Lot of times I’m the peace breaker, if you know what I mean. Lot of times when everyone’s all uptight, I’ll tell a joke. Make everybody laugh and it cools them down,” he said.
The church now has 37 members. Overton says when he first came there was an unbelievable number on the church rolls.
“Many I never found and never got to know them. We ended up having about 80 members back then, but God only knows the number of people I’ve buried.
“The way things are now spiritually in this country … we’re not seeing the kind of revival type situation we used to have. We may as well face it. We’re not seeing it. A lot of churches, to try to get people out are resorting to all sorts of things. I suppose if you had two churches – both were Baptist – both are like churches today. Congregations are getting older. And they’re wondering what are we going to do? How are we going to appeal to people?
“Let’s say this one on the left says ‘we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’re going to keep witnessing and preaching the gospel, we’re going to encourage people to come to Christ and we’re going to invite them to come to church.’
“The other church over here says, ‘we’ve tried that. It’s not working.’ I had a friend of mine from a different denomination just recently tell me about a church that decided they would start having a singing every Sunday night – bring a group in – and he said that helped them a little, it brought in a few people. But we start doing things that appeal to the world and the flesh. We end up then one day wondering what’s going on. We have to be realistic,” Overton said.
About his career, Overton said it had been a good journey.
“We’ve had our ups and downs and trials along the way. You name the illness, we’ve been through it. It always has an effect on the church. Sometimes a good effect, even though it is a bad traumatic thing. It will prove to be a blessing overall in time to a church.
“My church has been gracious to my wife and me. They have never failed in my 53 years as pastor to give me what they’ve promised me as a livelihood. I never entered the ministry for money. If I had wanted money I would have gone into business. But we’ve had a good journey. People have been so gracious to us,” he said.
“My old body is wearing out on me. Having problems with my joints. I have AFib and I’ve had some cancer and may have some more before it’s over. The cancers I have had could have killed me if we hadn’t caught them early enough. But God was gracious. But he knows how to slow you down,” Overton said.
“God has been gracious to Draper Valley,” Overton said. “Look at the history of our church. It was organized Nov. 3, 1901 in Connors Valley. Don’t really know where they met, but I’m of the opinion they met at the old Midway Service Station. Later the congregation built a building in Connors Valley.”
“In 1958 the church acquired the property where it is located today, and a wing of the building was built in 1959-60. Dedication was in May 1963 – three years before I came. The church came into existence as a result of the First Baptist Church in Pulaski. It also was instrumental in Dublin Baptist, Memorial and Trinity on Case Knife, and maybe more that I’m not aware of,” Overton said.
About his successor, Overton said the church “has called a good man.”
A graduate of Louisville Southern Baptist Seminary, Alan Pearce has a PhD in New Testament, according to Overton.
“He comes from Bluefield where he is a school teacher at Graham Middle School. He’ll keep his teaching position for a year. I’ll be kind of an assistant to him. I’m going to stay there, but I’m going to stay out of his hair,” Overton promises.
After 53 years what will Overton miss most?
“I’ll miss the discipline. I’ll miss that I can’t put things off. The discipline of study, meeting deadlines. Now I’ve got oodles of time, but don’t have the energy to do what I’d like to do. I’ve refinished a lot of furniture over the years. Built a lot of furniture. Still enjoy it.”
The most rewarding thing in his long career?
“The appreciation of people for the things that you do. Of course that would be secondary to seeing people converted to the Lord, but that has been very rewarding.”
Advice for any new pastor?
“He’s going to have to make a decision. And the people need to know it. As an old Baptist preacher said in London over a 100 years ago when a church sought him to leave a church and go to another one, he told the pulpit committee, ‘I don’t know what you want from me, but you can’t have both. You can either have my mind or you can have my feet. You can’t have both. A preacher cannot run himself to death to satisfy church members and be capable of preaching God’s Word, which he cannot preach unless he studies it and knows it. And he ought to know it before he tries to pour it into his people. Concentrate and dedicate yourself first to the preaching of God’s Word faithfully and the other will take care of itself. There will be times when you have to get up at 2 in the morning to go to the hospital so be prepared, but that’s not going to be every day. A good pastor is going to be the mind first and then the feet. It’s a 24-hour thing with pastors,” Overton said.
“My old pastor taught us this. If the bible doesn’t say it, don’t believe it. If the bible says it, you better believe it. I’ve never forgotten that premise. If the bible teaches it believe it. If it doesn’t, reject it. But make sure you know what it says.”
As for his 53 years at Draper Valley Baptist?
“My wife and I have enjoyed it. Sometimes it’s been difficult, but looking back over all of it … would I do it again? Yes!”
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot