A TRIBUTE TO MY PASTOR Andy Hollifield 7-10-19
A person just never knows each time you meet someone, where that introduction might lead. You don’t really expect a simple meeting to become a nearly five-decade friendship but I am one of a few blessed people that has one of those friends.
My life-long pastor, Rev. Bruce Howard West, is apparently nearing the end of his nearly 90-year journey. To begin to count the lives that this one life has impacted is an absolute impossibility. To begin to comprehend the depths of this man’s wisdom both in and out of the pulpit and in life in general, would most definitely be an exercise in futility. Ninety years of living can teach a person a lot of life’s lessons but it takes a true heart of compassion to share them with anyone willing to listen and learn.
Bruce knew me before I knew him I guess because he attended one of the first churches I ever went to in my life. I was only a toddler then and was taken to church a lot by our neighbor. It was in 1972 or ’73 when I first met Bruce to really know who he was. Little did I know then that not only would he be my Pastor three different times, but he would also years later become my mentor. Mentor probably isn’t a strong enough description of what he has been to me. A better way of putting it would be to say that he has been to me what Paul was to Timothy in the bible. I may have come up short on my end but he has always filled his position to the best of his ability. Any shortcoming on my part is not an indication of a lack of effort on his part.
Bruce had just recently started pastoring New Hope Baptist Church in Barnardsville, NC when I started going there. My mom’s first cousin who had known him from Fellowship Baptist Church in Newbridge invited mom to ride to New Hope with her and her kids one Sunday. We were a sight too. Eight kids under nine including four little toddler girls piled into that old blue Plymouth and headed to Barnardsville. No seatbelts, car seats, airbags, cell phones, or any of the other modern safety features we think we can’t survive without. Just two determined women that wanted to get their children into church.
Our moms became our Sunday School teachers and eventually the church prayed our dads back into church and both later became deacons. Unbeknownst to me at the time, was that little church on the head of North Fork was going to be the foundation that the rest of my life would be built on. It was in October 1973 in a revival at Pisgah Forest Freewill Baptist just down the road that I accepted the Lord as my Savior. Bruce baptized me in the creek just below the church the following June with the help of Garson Burleson, the pastor at Pisgah Forest.
I don’t want this tribute to be about me but it is hard to not mention myself when talking about the impact Bruce has had in my life. I remember when I first decided I wanted to sing at church, which was before I was even saved, Bruce would always encourage us kids. He didn’t put up with a bunch of foolishness during church, but outside was a different story. He would cut up and carry on with anyone who wanted to enjoy each others company and a good laugh. In the pulpit, he was all business. He even put a sign on the front of the pulpit that read; “If you must whisper, make it a prayer.” Apparently, everyone took that sign serious because God was so real in the hearts and lives of that church that we didn’t need a revival for the entire five years Bruce was the pastor. It was nothing unusual for the service to break loose during the singing and wind up having preaching, if we had any, before Sunday School if we even had that. People now would gripe about a preacher not having Sunday School for the little kids but believe me, we were definitely getting a spiritual education. We were being taught by example about the working of the Holy Ghost. I have heard it said that what you learn as a child you retain all of your life. I will have to agree with that because once you have church the way we did then and see the Lord move as he did then, nothing less will satisfy you.
I sat on the front bench once I was allowed to sit away from mom and dad. I sat mesmerized as Bruce would shout and run the aisle or hop from the front to the back of the church and back to the pulpit on one foot rolling his shoulders and blowing like a freight train the whole time. I even remember one Sunday morning while he was preaching, he took off down the aisle out the door, down the steps and out of sight. We could still hear him preaching but couldn’t see him. In a minute we saw him going through the cornfield above the outhouses with his arms going like a windmill and still preaching up a storm. In a few minutes, we could hear him coming up the steps still preaching, in the door, and right back into the pulpit and never missed a lick. When you see the power and demonstration of the Holy Ghost when you are a young kid like I was, it helps you realize at a young age what an awesome and almighty God we have that can make a man do that and not even remember it.
When I announced my calling to preach in June of 1986, I didn’t know it but it was within one day of when he had announced his calling fourteen or fifteen years earlier. He gave me some of the best advice I ever got about preaching when I called and told him. His advice was to get a good study bible, KJV of course, a Strong’s Concordance, and a Webster’s dictionary. He said those three things would be all I would really need and anything else would just be extra.
He also taught me to have something I could preach every time I darkened the door of a church. He said that the pastor could be sick or might have had to make an emergency visit to the hospital or something and I might be needed to fill in. He made sure I learned that one. He would sometimes get in the pulpit, open his bible and read something. About the time I slouched down in my seat to hear some good preaching when he hit second gear, he would close his bible and tell the church, “Pray for Andy as he comes to preach to us.” He then said, “Come on son and mind the Lord.” Then he would go sit down on the front bench and start praying for me. All throughout my ministry he always made himself available for advice, prayer, or just good conversation and passing the time.
When it came to making himself available, he didn’t have a watch. He was always on call 24/7 for anyone that needed him whether they were a church member or not or even a Christian for that matter. I have called in the middle of the night to get him to pray on a couple of urgent occasions. I wasn’t the only one either. There was the husband of a girl at our church that had never been saved that we were all praying for. He went to Texas with a man in our church that drove a truck. On the way back, this young man started asking questions about the Lord and about being born again. After a little while, he asked the man if they could go talk to Bruce when they got back. This young man was one that when you went to visit him he would always welcome you and treat you like his best friend. But when you mentioned church, he was pretty much done talking to you. When they got back to Asheville, they drove over to Bruce’s. After talking a few minutes, that boy got on his knees in the living room floor and prayed and got saved.
There was a Wednesday morning in November 1983 that Bruce really went above and beyond what anyone could have expected of him. I had just returned home a week earlier from having a kidney transplant in Winston Salem. I woke up that morning and was running a low-grade fever. A fever above 100 degrees meant I had to call the hospital immediately. When I did, they told me to come down a day early for my appointment. Mom had just got back to work after having a month off while she was sitting down there with me. Although I felt fine, she didn’t want me to drive down by myself. She would have taken off of work again if she had to but she told me to call Bruce and see if he could ride down with me. About an hour later I picked him up and headed to Winston. He made a call to his deacon at Chapel Hill Baptist in Skyland and told him he wouldn’t be there that night and to take the service and also to pray for me. He took off on a moments notice and went 150 miles not knowing when or how he would get back home. It just isn’t everyone that would do that for you and I have never forgotten it.
I mentioned earlier about how he obeyed the Holy Ghost in church. He also did it every day in his personal life. He always told me that giving a notice when you were fixing to resign as a pastor only prolonged the agony for you and the church. Every time he ever left a church, it was at the end of the message and I think it may have always been on Sunday morning. It wasn’t a family decision either. If Stella was at home sick, unless someone from the church called, she never found out until after the fact. He always said the church was dead in the water if the pastor knew from the Lord that his work was finished and didn’t immediately leave. He even left once when he had a 400 dollar a month payment on his van. He still owed a couple years or more on it and never was late or missed a payment on it and he wasn’t even working a public job at the time I don’t believe.
If Bruce or Stella ever got something on you, they would never forget and every time they told it to someone else they would both laugh like it had just happened. He always liked to tell everybody about the time I came to visit and Stella made a home-made Lasagna and invited me to eat while I was there. I didn’t think I had eaten that much of it but they tell a different story than I do and their’s is probably a lot closer to the truth. I wasn’t the worst one though. He also liked to tell a story about one of our younger preacher friends that came with a crew to do some work on their house one time. The story goes that this preacher ate so many of Stella’s apple fritters that he just laid out in the front yard under the shade tree moaning because he was too stuffed to move let alone do any more work.
Well, I guess I have to stop somewhere. You just can’t put nearly five decades of life into words much less in just a page or two. Few preachers ever have a pastor to take them under their wing the way Bruce did for me. I have always said that I learned as much from him out of the pulpit as I did in it. I also learned as much by watching him as I did by listening to him. Bruce and Stella have always been my go-to people no matter what I was facing in life. He preached when I got saved, baptized me, married Diane and me, and also preached the dedication service for my son. He even scheduled me to preach in his church one time so a pulpit committee could come to hear me. He would have preached my ordination service in 2007 but he was having voice issues and couldn’t talk above a whisper after just a couple minutes. When I was pastoring, he came pretty often to Malvern Hills to be in service with me. It is both intimidating and encouraging to see your pastor come in to support you.
I know I am very biased but I sincerely hope that each of you have the privilege once in your life to have a pastor like Bruce. I am also thankful for every mile and minute we spent together that I had the opportunity to take him to a service somewhere. I have always said that I felt sorry for any preacher that didn’t come up under Bruce West because I know what they missed out on. I still feel that way even more than when I started preaching. I hope you have enjoyed my little stroll through time and I also hope you have enjoyed a little glimpse into the life of this great soldier of the cross, my pastor, mentor, and my friend; Bruce West. Have a blessed day in the Lord!!!