Washington pastor reflects on four decades of ministry

Published 7:38 pm Wednesday, October 31, 2018

From a young age, Rev. Russell Wilkins’ life was heavily influenced by the church and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Both of his parents were heavily involved with his home church in Roper, and it was their strong Christian values that set him down the path to ministry.

“I followed them to church on a regular basis as a young lad, and my interest started from there,” Wilkins said.

Decades later, Wilkins has taken that calling and followed it in a way that has had a powerfully positive impact on the Washington community as a whole. This week marks his 41st pastoral anniversary at St. John Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ.

After graduating from Plymouth High School, Wilkins pursued his education at Atlantic Christian College in Wilson. There he earned a B.S. degree in intermediate education and a second degree in religion and philosophy. He earned his master’s degree in pastoral ministry at Trinity Theological Seminary in Indiana.

Ordained in 1975, Wilkins began his work at St. John in 1977. He also spent 16 years as an educator, in addition to his ministry. In the four decades since, the church has sought to be a city on the hill in Washington.

“When I came, at the early age of 21, things were not at the pace that they are now,” Wilkins reflected. “Things have continued to change. The church is now more involved in the community more than it was when I first arrived.”

CELEBRATING ACHIEVEMENT: Wilkins is pictured here with St. John Church of Christ during the church’s academic achievement recognition. (St. John Church of Christ)

Pontification is one thing, but Wilkins has not only preached the Gospel during his time at St. John — he’s lived in a way that put it into practice.

Under his leadership, the church has expanded its mission in ways that have been a blessing to the community. From establishing the 36-unit St. John Housing complex as a refuge for senior citizens in need of affordable housing, to monthly food distributions and yearly coat and shoe giveaways, the church’s missions always seek to bring people to Christ, he said.

“The mission of St. John is to provide the greater community with The Word and equip them with salvation, deliverance, healing and stewardship,” Wilkins said. “Wrapped around that mission is our vision, which is to connect to all people by building healthy relationships that lead to Christ. Bottom line, whatever we do is to lead men, women, boys and girls to Christ and teach them to love everybody.”

St. John’s also runs an empowerment center that hosts church and community events, seminars for lay people, a Christian bookstore and a fitness center. At 22,000 square feet, the building serves as a gathering place not just for congregants, but the community as a whole.

As to the influences that guide his ministry, Wilkins cites words from Mother Teresa that he reflects upon on a daily basis.

“Mother Teresa stated during her time on this earth, that ‘at the end of our lives, we won’t be judged by how many diplomas we have, how much money we have or how many great things we have accomplished.’” Wilkins said. “In reading that, she reminds us that we will be judged by the words from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 35 and 36. That saying from Mother Teresa impacts my life as a pastor every single day.”