Vision for life

The Rev. Eugene Gainey is retiring as pastor of the First Missionary Baptist Church, 151 SE 15th St., after 35 years of service. Gainey will have his last service at the First Missionary Baptist Church at 11 a.m. Feb. 9.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 2:47 a.m.


Banquet for Rev. Gainey

  • What: A banquet and roast honoring the Rev. Eugene Gainey.
  • When: Saturday, Feb. 8, at 5 p.m.
  • Where: Best Western Grand Hotel, 4200 NW 97th Blvd.

  • Before he was even called to the Lord, the Rev. Eugene Gainey said he felt destined to build a church. His church. The revelation came to him as a young man - a vision from God, he said - and its construction became his life's purpose.
    Gainey spent half his life attending to his church. Sunday after Sunday, he stood before his congregation and preached the word. He celebrated the virtues of faith, by performing marriages, baptizing babies and counseling the weary. Under his guidance, his vision and church prospered.
    Now, after 35 years as pastor of Gainesville's First Missionary Baptist Church, Gainey is retiring. The Rev. Gainey's last service will be held at the First Missionary Baptist Church, 1515 S.E. 15th St., at 11 a.m. on Feb. 9.
    "I had promised the Lord that I would serve as pastor, the best pastor I could be, that represented the Christian family and community, until I was 70 - then I'd retire," said Gainey.
    "I'm not retiring because I'm physically unable," he said. "I'm not as old as Moses, but I believe a time comes when it's time to move on and let someone else take over."
    When the late Rev. W.A. Miles first organized the First Missionary Baptist Church in February 1963, the church consisted of little more than 79 members worshipping first at Dade Spring Baptist Church and then later at the Antioch Holiness Church under the Rev. Sam Bannister.
    Although the arrangement sufficed, the members prayed for a leader who would build them a church of their own.
    That leader arrived in 1968.
    "He looked so young," recalled Bessie Johnson, a long serving member of the congregation. "He looked so young, I asked him what choir he was singing with."
    Gainey's oratory talents and organizational skills, however, quickly dispelled any initial misgivings members might have had, said Johnson. The young man destined to build a church and the congregation in search of a home had at last found one another.
    When Gainey arrived in 1968, construction of the church already had begun. Church members had raised $18,000, and some of the church's walls were already standing.
    But construction did not proceed smoothly. Vandals broke expensive plate glass windows just after they were installed, and banks refused the church loans for further construction.
    "We couldn't borrow money downtown. No kind of money. They said times were hard, and they only had lent to established customers," said Gainey. "Even though we had property as collateral, they still wouldn't lend us money."
    But Gainey was undeterred. Despite their precarious financial situation, Gainey and his congregation funded further construction through grass roots appeals.
    They organized donation drives. They sold sandwiches and dinners. They solicited donations from businesses, other churches, their families, their friends.
    "Rev. Gainey believes in participation, not just talking about it," said Ken Simmons, Gainey's son-in-law and friend for more than 25 years. "He's a strong-willed man who wants to be a part of whatever is going on. He is a man who commits."
    Constuction proceeded deliberately over the next several years. As funds accumulated, additions were added. More land was purchased, adding to a plot previously donated by Phil Emmer, the owner and builder of the Lincoln Estates subdivision. The church slowly took shape.
    With constuction nearing an end, the church still was without furniture. Worse, the congregation had no more money.
    Word of their plight reached all the way to Waco, Texas, where a donor offered to furnish the church.
    Agreeing to $35 monthly repayments, Gainey finalized the arrangements and the furniture was delivered. Except for this obligation, the church was debt free.
    On the second Sunday in October 1972, nearly four years after its constuction began, the First Missionary Baptist Church celebrated its first mass.
    "It was like Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt into the promised land," said Gainey. "We marched into the church. It was a glorious day."
    Members of the First Missionary Baptist Church had been worshipping in another man's church, but now they were somewhere they could call their own, said Gainey.
    Over the next 35 years, Gainey continued to fight for what he thought right. Supported by Jerlene, his wife of 51 years, Gainey challanged his congregation to live up to the lessons of the Scriptures. That sometimes meant challenging the notions of the day. Charles Baker, a physician's assistant and longtime friend of Gainey, said the preacher practiced what he preached.
    "He stood up for what was right," said Baker. "He used to say he was called to preach in and out of season."

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