For the past 26 years, Dr. James Dees has served as pastor of Clement Baptist Church. At the beginning of September, he began year 27, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is a good church,” he said proudly. “If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have invested 27 years of my life here. I believe this is where God wants me to be and I couldn’t be happier.”
The oldest of six children and the only son, Dees was born in Fayetteville and moved around during his youth.
“My father was a career airman so we moved around every two to three years. I lived in Topeka, Kansas; Cheyene, Wyoming; Biloxi, Mississippi; Fayetteville and Raeford, North Carolina and settled in the community of Rockfish in Hoke County.”
His church life began early too.
“I was blessed by the Lord from the very beginning,” he said, smiling. “I attended church approximately nine months before I was ever born, so I was raised in a Christian family and attended church all the way until I went to get a job at 16.”
At 17, Dees married his sweetheart Luanne.
“My first big time job was working in the maitenence department at the House of Raeford in Raeford and then I went to work at the Kelly-Springfield Tire Company in Fayetteville,” he said. “I was there for 13 years. I worked at Kelly-Springfield, and I was serving the Lord — people needed good tires to go to work, go to church and to the hospital and I was going to church. So I felt like I was where God wanted me to be and doing what He wanted me to do.”
Although he thought he was where he was supposed to be, and with two children, Jamie and Amber, his life changed on Oct. 25, 1978, following a Bible study at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Rockfish. “The preacher asked a question, ‘If you should die tonight, are you sure you would go to Heaven?’ I told one of the deacons at church that I wasn’t sure. In a little pre-school Sunday school room that night, I prayed a prayer that changed my life. I knew that someday that I was going to die and I wanted to go to Heaven and I didn’t know what to do. The Bible teaches that we must ask forgiveness for our sins and ask Christ to come into our heart, and at that age, I did that. After that, I began attending church every time the doors were opened. I did everything that you can do in the church except serve as treasurer.”
Dees said it was something that was triggered after his grandfather’s death.
“Somewhere around the age of 26-27 years old, my grandfather died,” he explained. “I didn’t know what was taking place in my life, but God was working in my life and the Holy Spirit was calling me then, and I walked in my grandpa’s house and looked at his old raggedy rocking chair with the bottom coming out of it; I saw his spit can and his old shoes and I began to wonder if that was all there was to life — to live, work and die. Didn’t know what was happening, but it was his death that caused me to think about eternal and spiritual things — it was my upbringing in the church and then my grandfather’s death.”
Dees was ordained as a deacon on Oct. 27, 1979 at Tabernacle Baptist. “I was licensed to preach on Feb.21, 1982 and ordained into the gospel ministry on May 15, 1983,” he said. “I was called to serve as associate pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church and did so for approximately three years before coming to Clement Baptist Church.”
By 1990, Dees was back in school, and he never looked back.
“Then the Lord just impressed on me and I started going to school. In May of 1990, Dees earned a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion with a minor in Social Work, graduating Magna Cum Laude from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
“From there I went to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and earned a masters of divinity degree in May of 1995. Then I went on to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and earned a Doctorate of Ministry at Trinity Theological Seminary graduating with distinction with special studies in Pastoral Ministries in 1999,” he said.
In his office, the degrees are hanging behind his desk chair. There is one that hangs on top of all of them. It is a hand-drawn picture that was a gift from his daughter when she was a young child.
“That is higher than all the rest,” he says with a smile when asked about the drawing. “When we first got here, I came in one day and that was laying on my desk; it is special, that is why it is on top of all of those.”
Now, with two grandchildren, Alex and Jordan, and having been married for 40 years, the minister said he is blessed to be part of a church family in a community full of support.
“One of the most wonderful things that I enjoy about the pastoral ministry is sharing Jesus Christ with other people and being used by God to lead people into the kingdom of God,” he said. “See we don’t know what to do, the Bible tell us, but the natural carnal man can ‘t understand. It takes somebody that has had that experience with Christ to be able to share with somebody that hasn’t. I really, really enjoy preaching the gospel. That is why I went to college, that is why I went to seminary, that is why I earned a doctorates degree — to preach. I would not be where I am today if it were not for the encouragement, prayers, support of my wife and family, friends, people from my home church and people of this community. I could not have done it. I have been blessed and I am fortunate.”
Being at Clement Baptist for the past 27 years is something that motivates Dees.
“One of the most amazing things about serving a church for 27 years is that I am now officiating marriage ceremonies for people that I was at the hospital when they were born and held them in my arms as a baby,” he said, emotion creeping into his voice.
“I have watched them grow up, go through school, graduate college and then go on to get a job. I can remember dedicating those folks as a baby and now I am dedicating their babies. It is a humbling experience to know that I am the only pastor that anybody under the age of 26 has known in this church. That is pretty cool.”
Another thing he is proud of is the relationships he has built in the community.
“One of the things about a long-term pastor is that I have built relationships, trust,” he said. ” I know the people, the community and we are a family. When there is a crisis or a need, I know where to go; I don’t have to ask, I know. My family and I feel like we are part of this church family and this community because we were accepted from the very beginning, and to be in a wonderful community like this, a wonderful church family like this, it is very special and I know that I have been blessed.”
One of the hard parts that comes with that, is losing close friends who go on to glory.
“Since 1988, I have preached 93 funerals from people out of this church,” he said. “I have lost many good friends, supporters, people who have worked hand and foot with me, served Christ with me and have been a part of this community. It hurts and it is always sad to lose them. As a minister, every time that I am preaching a funeral for a church member, a little part of me dies, too, and that is the truth.”
Which is one of the reasons why church members go out of their way to help widows, the elderly and shut-ins.
However, the church also celebrates events throughout the year — all free to the community, including Trunk or Treat, Community Fun Fest, Valentine’s Day banquet, as well as traditional holiday celebrations.
The church is also in the early planning stages of its 125th anniversary, which will take place on April 17, 2013.
Clement Baptist Church is a worldwide mission center, Dees adds. “We are serving the Lord and the community, surrounding areas, and all over the world. We pray for and support over 10,000 missionaries all over the world.”
When asked what he wants people to know about the church, Dees smiles and says, “We are for real. We are faithful to the teachings and preachings of the scripture. We try to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. We try to meet the needs in our community and surrounding area and we welcome everybody. Our doors are open to any and everyone. All are welcome here, we would like you to come and visit.”
For more information on Clement Baptist Church, call 910-567-6777 or stop by at 6175 Maxwell Rd, Autryville; or click on to Clement Baptist.org.
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or email to email@example.com.