ZEPHYRHILLS — After nearly 60 years in the ministry, Lawson E. Jolly Jr. stepped down as pastor of Richland Baptist Church on Dec. 29, but Jolly says he is not finished with preaching.
Jolly and his wife, Judy, served in the pastoral ministry at Richland for five years.
“We realize we have come to the end of our pastoral ministry, but do not make a mistake,” Jolly said. “I’ve not come to the end of ministry. I’m still preaching; there’s still fire in the stove … I’m just not able to do the work of pastoral ministry.
“I retired in 1999,” Jolly, 79, said to the laughter from the congregation, “but we’ve basically preached every Sunday since then unless we were out of town or were sick.”
The Jolly’s daughter, Jennifer Rothschild, told the congregation of the lessons she had learned from her father and encouraged the congregation to trust God in their personal lives and as they search for a pastor.
Blind since the age of 15 due to a rare degenerative eye disease, Rothschild is an internationally known Christian speaker, author, songwriter and vocal artist with nine books and six albums to her credit. Jolly closed the service with a final altar call as pastor before the congregation honored the couple with a power-point presentation highlighting their years of ministry followed by a church retirement dinner.
Jolly was born in 1934 in Stone Mountain, Ga. In 1956, while a student at Baylor University, Jolly began a student pastorate at Flagbranch Baptist Church in Iredell, Texas. He graduated from Baylor in 1958 and preached in several churches and later received a master’s degree in divinity, graduating with honors from Emory University.
In 1961, Jolly became the pastor on the Sunset Point Baptist Church in Clearwater, where he met and married the former Judith Lee Richbourg on Aug. 4, 1962. He has served in several pastorates, including First Baptist Church in Dade City. He also helped to start several new churches.
The Jollys served on gospel missions in Costa Rica, Haiti, Korea, Honduras and Panama. The pastor helped develop models for sending groups from churches to assist in starting new ministries in other countries. In 1991, Jolly became the director of the Pensacola Bay Baptist Association, where he developed programs promoting individual church leadership and growth and new missions opportunities. He retired from that position in 1999.
The Jollys have three children: two sons, Lawson Jolly II, who lives in Dade City and is the director of Counseling at Saint Leo University, and David Jolly, who is running for the District 13 congressional seat in Pinellas County; and one daughter, Rothschild.
Jolly told the congregation: “I always desired to be a soldier of fortune, going to everywhere in the world and [doing] unusual things. God fulfilled that in my life. I’ve been down those rivers in dugout canoes and in dense jungles and the top of volcanoes. I was marooned on an island and [was] the first white man into a village where they wanted to feel my skin to see what it felt like. I’ve been able to be a guest in the White House ... I could never have done that as a soldier of fortune, but when you surrender your life to the Lord you don’t usually have to give up your dreams, you just get bigger ones and bigger opportunities.”