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Rollins leaving LHPC after 27 years as pastor

Posted: November 1, 2011 4:22 p.m.
Updated: November 2, 2011 5:00 a.m.
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Liberty Hill Presbyterian Church

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For Gene Rollins, it all began when he got the mumps.

He was a married 21-year-old father of two young children who had never been sick -- or even bothered to slow down and do some “serious thinking” -- during his entire life.

But a bad case of the mumps changed all of that.

“My father died when I was 4 years old and we never went to church after he died. But when I got the mumps, that’s when I decided to do some serious thinking and that’s when I became a person of faith,” Rollins said. “About four years later, I felt a call into the ministry.”

When he told his first wife about his calling, Rollins said, she told him that she didn’t marry a minister.

And in truth, she had not. After all, Rollins worked in the retail business when they married.

But he still made the decision to finish high school, take the G.E.D. and start college.

He went on to receive an associate of arts from North Greenville College in 1968, a bachelor of arts in psychology from Wofford College in 1970, a master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1972, and a doctorate of ministry from Drew University in 1987.

In 1984, Rollins began to serve as pastor of the then-14-member congregation of Liberty Hill Presbyterian Church (LHPC) -- a church that has grown to more than 350 members today. He remarried in 1985, and he and his wife, Linda, have been a part of the Liberty Hill family since.

“We are constantly looking at how we can serve our community,” Rollins said of his church, including being very involved in a prison ministry. “And every dime we collect at our lakeside services goes back into the community. This year, it will be over $20,000, and it has been over the last few years … all that goes back into the community.”

Now, after serving 27 years as the church’s pastor, the 71-year-old minister said it’s time for him to retire.

Already an author of two published books -- and with an additional two books currently at his publisher -- Rollins said he’s ready to focus on his writing.

“It’s been the most pleasant and productive years of my life. But I think it’s just God’s time … that’s kind of hard for people to understand.  I came to the point where I felt like the church was at a point and I was at a point where I needed to do something different,” he said. “But I will miss preaching the 18 lakeside services each year.”

That doesn’t mean members of Rollins’ congregation are ready to see him go.

LHPC member Sylvia Hudson said she remembers what it was like when she heard Rollins preach for the first time 24 years ago. She said she also remembers what it was like when Rollins announced to the congregation he would retire at the end of this year.

“He had been preparing us and telling us for two to three years that he would be leaving. He told us that he wasn’t interested in man’s time. He was interested in God’s time, and when it was God’s time he would leave and he said we needed to be prepared for that,” Hudson said. “But when I finally heard him say that Dec. 25 will be his last day, the only thing that I felt was numbness. I could even hear people around me gasp. I couldn’t speak … it was like I was in the Twilight Zone.”

Even with Rollins’ departure, Hudson said he still leaves behind a wealth of his knowledge -- not only from the sermons preached to the congregation -- but also from the books and papers he has written.

And Rollins is not really leaving, she quickly added, he just won’t be in the pulpit every Sunday.

“He’s still my friend, and he’s still in the community; that will never change regardless of whether or not he puts that robe on each Sunday. He’s laid an extraordinary foundation, and I hope that we can move forward with that foundation,” Hudson said. “But you know what, I know we will.”

It’s also that foundation that keeps LHPC member Lee Ann Parker and her family somewhat reluctant to change their membership to a church in Charlotte, where they have lived the past seven years.

“He’s the most loving person I’ve ever met … there is nobody he doesn’t love. He’s told us over and over again that the only way he knows how to love God is by loving God’s people -- he’s dedicated his whole life to that,” Parker said, choking back tears. “I will probably miss his intellect the most, but it’s not all intellectual preaching … what he teaches us helps us to live our lives on a daily basis. He’s just an amazing person.”

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