Raleigh Wooten has been preaching 63 years and now says he plans to make a major change in his career and enter a new phase of work.
Notice, there's no mention of the "R" word.
When pushed, though, Wooten backtracks just a bit.
"Basically, I am retiring from my main line of work," he says. "I plan to be semiretired but available as a supply preacher."
This Sunday will be his last after 18 years at Ware Branch Church of Christ. But Wooten, at 82, is not ready to lay aside his training and experience. "It's just kind of in my blood to keep busy," he says, "and this is a way to keep busy."
Wooten says he'll fill in at a church for one week or, while still living in his Chattanooga home, he will relocate for a few months as an interim minister, which has become the norm in some denominations when churches are between leaders.
changes he's seen
Wooten says one of the biggest changes in ministry in the Church of Christ since 1950 is the longer length of stay by preachers.
"They get into the community and work rather than just being pulpit people," he says. "I'm a people person. I enjoy being with people. I don't think of myself when I work with a church as just [a preacher].
"When I first started," Wooten says, "preachers would stay a very short time, four years at best. Now, by the time a preacher's been preaching [at one place a long time], an interlude helps the person coming. It bridges the gap."
Interim ministers clean the palate, so to speak.
Wooten says he's glad to offer his experience. Between 1950 and 1966, he served Tennessee Church of Christ congregations in Covington, Newbern, Union City, Murfreesboro and Kingston. Since 1966, he has ministered at the Eastdale, Ridgeside, Northside and Ware Branch congregations, all in the Chattanooga area.
"I've had a lot of exposure to problems in churches and in families," he says. "A lot of my preaching will be relative to families. I believe where we're lacking these days is that families are falling apart, and churches suffer from that."
Experience in the church has given him the ability to dispense ministerial advice on children, marriage and families in crisis.
"I feel comfortable trying to help people over the hump," he says.
It's not all been serious, though. Wooten says there was a time when the man leading the music in one of his churches had the false teeth fly out of his mouth.
"They went quite a ways," he says. Then the guy went crawling after them. "The congregation broke up."
On another occasion in a small country church, a dog wandered in and down the aisle. Eventually, he was shooed into a Sunday school room off the sanctuary, but his scratching required his eventual release.
The congregation was "more interested in him than me," he says.
Whatever legacy he has, he says, will be one of "encouragement and as someone in the shepherd role than someone dominant in the field."
But, certainly, in more than 60 years, he cared for a lot of sheep.
Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@times freepress.com.
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