Pastor celebrates 30 years at church
Published 10:57 am Friday, June 17, 2016
By Merle Monahan
Congratulations and well wishes echoed throughout the banquet hall recently as more than 100 people attended the celebration of the Rev. Frank Aikens’ 30th year as pastor of New Branch Baptist Church. But no emotion was as moving as that by Aikens himself as he wiped away tears during his appreciation speech.
“I love New Branch Church,” he said. “The church is my home and the members are my family.
“If I were asked to leave and take another church, I’d have to say no,” he added.
Aikens was honored last week for his many years of service to the small church. Following the banquet at the Airfield 4-H Center in Wakefield on May 21, members held a special service for him at the church on June 5. At this service, nearly 200 people — including as many as a dozen pastors, both locally and from churches as far away as Petersburg and Portsmouth — commended Aikens for his longevity at New Branch.
From speeches praising the dedication of the long-time pastor to hymns of love, devotion and glory to God by a visiting choir from Petersburg and a rousing sermon by Pastor Wesley McLaughlin of Mt. Olive Baptist Church, Petersburg, the service kept the congregation alert and on its feet. Aikens and his wife, LaVern, sat in the first pew of the sanctuary until they were asked to speak.
Standing next to his “First Lady,” Aikens gave her credit for persuading him to take the pastorate at New Branch in the first place.
“New Branch was looking for someone to fill the pulpit until they could get a pastor full-time,” he said.
“Well, I was scared, it being my first church, you know.
“But my wife said, ‘Why don’t you take it? Preach there until they can get someone else’
“That was 30 years ago,” Aikens said with a big smile. “They still haven’t found my replacement.”
The beloved pastor, who is just turning 68, came to the small country church on Proctors Bridge Road in Ivor in June, 1986. New Branch, the only church he has served as pastor, has been the life God chose for him, he said, and he will not leave until God tells him to.
“I believe in God’s word,” the pastor went on. “I will know when He wants me to retire.”
Aikens reflected on when God first called him to preach. “I felt the calling shortly after I was discharged from the U.S. Air Force,” he said. “I worked for a while at a broadcasting station, but all the time I knew what I had to do.”
It was during this time that he started preparing to preach and was ordained when he came to New Branch.
By then, he had married LaVern Chester and the couple had started their family, eventually becoming the proud parents of four children with five grandchildren.
“A wonderful life,” he said.
But in 2009, Aikens was faced with a problem he never anticipated. He lost his sight. An inconvenience, the pastor said solemnly, but he has never let his blindness stop him. He stands in the New Branch pulpit and delivers his sermons every Sunday as usual.
“God gave me the ability to memorize His Word,” he said, “and I have tapes and CDs if I need them.
“And I have a wonderful family and friends who transport me wherever I need to go.” Aikens feels fortunate to have his family, his church and his church family.
“They take care of me and they love me, “he said, adding, “the feeling is mutual.”