Scripture calls pastors to “shepherd” God’s flock of sheep.
It’s a good thing, because we as sheep have a tendency to stray. But a good shepherd stays with, cares for, and loves his sheep regardless.
Pastor Peyton Embrey, who has served his congregation at Mount Carmel Baptist since 1969, is one such shepherd.
There is a beautiful, old rugged cross center to the entry way at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Virginia, crafted from one of the original hand-hewn beams in the church, raised up in 1886.
When the original building burned in a fire in 1901, the church worked to regroup and a few things were salvaged.
This special beam was one of the saved items, along with wood that was used in 2010 to craft a list of features to commemorate the long history of faith in this place.
The church took time and money to redo the building with all creative hands on deck. Among other things, the original wood was used to create a frame for large, stained glass windows as well as a new pulpit.
But to see the pulpit and its faithful pastor, you’d have to turn your head to stage right.
Pastor Embrey is a humble man who wants the cross of Jesus to be what people gaze at as they search the Scriptures together every Sunday.
“He is a humble man and very much a selfless servant… He understands that he’s simply another member of the church, but God’s just called him out to be the lead elder,” remarked Southern Baptist Convention leader Rev. Darrell Webb.
As a member of the Southern Baptist Convention organization, Mount Carmel’s pastor wows many for his long-lasting record with the church. The Convention usually sees pastors serve an average of four years with any given church, but Pastor Embrey is a gift to behold when it comes to his long service.
And perhaps it is directly correlated with his faithful shepherding heart. He loves God’s people at this local gathering immensely.
Eugene and Hazel Jacobs were married in 1972 at this church and have been lifelong members. Pastor Embrey remembers their ceremony well, as it was his first time marrying anyone! And, though he had been at the church for three years, he was still two years away from being ordained officially…
Hazel had only good things to say about her pastor even after all of these years, “Peyton’s been in my life a very long time, and his demeanor is so calming. He’s such a caring person and a good listener.”
Pastor Embrey has baptized over 300 believers in Christ at this point. But Paul Estes remembers back 34 years ago when he was a ruddy 15-year-old, submerged by the gentle, but strong hands of Embrey.
Now Estes is grateful for the honor of working alongside Embrey as a part-time ministry assistant. “What a blessing it’s been to have his wonderful teaching. He is well-loved by our congregation. I really appreciate his faithfulness over the years and sharing God’s word with us.”
Estes also mentioned “his quick wit.”
Indeed, ask anyone who’s been around for even just one Sunday service and they’ll likely second Estes’ comments.
Pastor Embrey believes some lightheartedness when preaching is a great antidote to hurting souls, or even a gateway into hearts that were not previously as open to the Truth.
He has likened himself to Barney Fife (the silly sidekick to the main sheriff on “The Andy Griffith Show”).
Examples of his joy-filled humility include this statement: “I have a saying, that if you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he didn’t get there by himself. We’re all just turtles on fence posts, and I know how much I owe to the people here.”
As much as Pastor Embrey is able to enjoy fun times, he has a stalwart gumption that is another key feature to how he’s lasted all these years at Mount Carmel. He believes in doing what is right even when it’s hard.
The church had borrowed on a 30-year loan for their 2010 remodeling project. But with persistence and prayer and really good planning, Embrey had the church out of their $400,000 debt within six years.
Phyllis Dodson won’t ever forget that. She was so impressed when she learned that Embrey’s “patience and persistence” meant “the entire debt was repaid, and we held a note-burning service on Nov. 19, 2017.”
But with all the respect and long-term effort Embrey has put into this church, he’s refused the title of Reverend, as would be common amongst his peers.
It is Christ’s Spirit of humility that Embrey is best known by, and therefore the church keeps his title as Pastor, at his request.
“I think of the scripture, ‘Holy and reverend is His name.’,” said Embrey when asked about this preference.
This Spirit is what helps Embrey himself when the times are hard for the whole congregation.
Being pastor isn’t easy, as death and suffering are unavoidable parts of our human experience.
“The Lord has called a lot of precious people home, and as a pastor, it wears on you, it really does. I have to find the strength to give the family strength and to be a source of comfort when I’m feeling what others are feeling. I hurt with them and for them.”
The congregation knows it and Embrey was honored in August of this year for his 50 years of service to God and to them.
The members, including Estes, organized a huge event and held it at Dayspring Mennonite Church. Most of Mount Carmel’s 150 members were in attendance, along with at least 150 more. Embrey is a treasured part of the whole community.
When Embrey learned about this, he once again responded with turning the praise to the people and God rather than himself. “These are good people. They are good to me, and they are good to each other.”
Estes had a special surprise that Embrey was especially happy to accept, however.
He and his wife, Carol Embrey, love to go to Amish country as often as possible to get a taste of Lapp Valley ice cream. He has boasted to the congregation more than once about how this treat of Lancaster, PA is something worth making the trip for.
Well, to ensure this day was just as special for Embrey as could possibly be, Estes drove enough ice cream directly from Lapp County to the event for everyone to share in this treat their beloved pastor loves.
Praise God for the history of faith that Embrey has been able to provide at Mount Carmel and all the blessings the congregation has experienced during his 50 years of service.
Pray that the 77-year-old pastor is held in the health and grace of God all of his days.
Pray also for your pastor as well.
There are things beyond our comprehension that our pastors have to deal with on a daily basis, as life unfolds not only for them, but for every member of the flock they care for.
Pray for unwavering faith and God’s presence to protect and guide them as they faithfully guide us in His Ways.