The line of people wanting to hug, shake hands or take pictures with the Rev. Dick Lincoln on Sunday stretched across the church fellowship hall, curved through the lobby and extended through a set of double doors.
Lincoln, 69, preached his last sermon at the church Sunday morning. He’s retiring after nearly 40 years behind the pulpit. He will turn 70 early next year.
“Seventy is as good as any,” Lincoln said of making the decision to retire. “I had noticed that a lot of dynamic men changed at age 70. I felt like that was a good, round number for me. I didn’t want to quit at 65, but felt like 70 would be fine.”
Since Lincoln took the pulpit in 1978, the church’s membership has grown from 750 to around 7,000. Attendance at Sunday services went from 400 to around 2,200, and in 1996 the church moved from its original location in the Shandon neighborhood to its current home that towers along Forest Drive.
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In addition to maintaining an active presence in Midlands-area community events, the church is well-known for its singing Christmas tree, and even served as a distribution point during the 2015 flooding.
Lincoln was modest when asked what he is proudest of in his 38 years.
“Picasso supposedly said no man should be a connoisseur of his own work,” he said.
Elizabeth Lincoln, 38, puts her hand on her father’s back and chimes in.
“Just that you were able to be here and be loved and grow a church for this long,” she said. “It’s very unusual for ministers to stay anywhere very long, and for 38 years – that’s a pretty big deal.”
John Wells, a retired ophthalmologist and close friend of Lincoln’s for 30 years, said that in their years of hunting, fishing and golfing together, he’s learned from Lincoln how to be happy.
“You’ve got to get to know Jesus to be happy in life,” he said.
Deborah Williams, 58, wiped away tears after hugging Lincoln at Sunday’s reception.
“My experience with church has been being preached at,” she said. “Pastor Dick Lincoln does not do that. He actually talks to you, so it’s more of a conversation, as if I am talking to God.”
Lincoln and his wife, Patty, will move to Greenville, where they are renovating a home before deciding what to do next in life, Elizabeth Lincoln said.
The pastor’s last sermon at Shandon Baptist felt no different from the many others before it, he said.
“I have not let myself think: my last trip to the church, my last sermon, my last staff meeting,” Lincoln said. “I’ve wanted to do a good job at each and every thing and sort of leave it at that.”