By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
DOVER — Melvin Dunaway initially assumed he would only last about seven days at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Dover.
Turns out, his estimate was a little off — by about 16,500 days.
Dunaway recently announced his retirement after serving as Pleasant Grove’s pastor for 45 years — a tenure that spans nearly half of the church’s 100-year history.
“After I preached that first Sunday, I thought, well, they won’t want me back any more,” said Dunaway with a little laugh.
The church did indeed want him back the following Sunday … and the one after that … and ultimately, for the next half-century.
“Every member (at Pleasant Grove) has done nothing but love me,” said Dunaway. “And I loved them right back.”
Joe Shannon, director of missions for Stewart County Baptist Association and pastor at Grace Baptist Church, said his life and ministry has been directly shaped by Dunaway in countless ways. Dunaway was Shannon’s pastor during Shannon’s childhood, and eventually led Shannon to the Lord in his late teens.
“The man baptized me, mentored me, discipled me, everything,” said Shannon. “He’s been a tremendous influence on my life and has modeled for me what a pastor is.”
Dunaway was bivocational for most of his tenure at Pleasant Grove. In addition to his role as pastor, he also worked in the boot industry, serving as a cutting foreman for the ACME boot company and Dan Post. When he retired from the boot industry, he stayed on as pastor at Pleasant Grove and was able to spend even more time ministering to his congregation.
“He burned the roads up, visiting his members,” said Shannon. “Hospitals, homes, nursing homes — he was constantly visiting people. … And he never did it because he had to. He did it because he wanted to and because he cared. ”
Dunaway tells a humorous story about how he got started at Pleasant Grove in the mid-1970s. At the time, Dunaway and his wife, Lucille, had just moved into a house in Stewart County and were expecting their first child.
One day, he answered a knock at the door, and standing there, on the front porch, were some of the church leaders from Pleasant Grove.
“They didn’t know me and I didn’t know them,” Dunaway recalled. “They had just heard about me, I guess, and knew that I had preached a few times in some of the local churches. So, they came to my house and knocked on the door,” he said.
“And they said, ‘Are you Brother Dunaway?’ And I said, ‘Well, I am Melvin Dunaway — and I do know the Lord, so I suppose you can call me Brother Dunaway if you want.”
Not long into the conversation, Dunaway said the men asked him to become the church’s pastor.
“At this time, I had never pastored a church in my life,” he said. “
In fact, I hadn’t preached more than a dozen times. But they said, ‘We want to try it anyway.’ So, I said, okay, I will be there Sunday.”
Dunaway remembers that there were about 12 people in attendance the first Sunday. After preaching that day, he assumed that would be the end of it. But he received a call from the deacons, asking him back for another Sunday.
“I said, ‘do you think you can stand it?’ ” he said. “And they said, yes, we loved it.”
The following Sunday, the church leaders again asked him about becoming the pastor. Dunaway reminded them that he wasn’t ordained, but they told him, “we can get you ordained.”
And they did. Soon, a bond was formed that would last the next 45 years.
With his wife serving as his ministry partner — “She is a part of everything I do, going on visits and all sorts of things,” he said — Dunaway has been a picture of stability and longevity at Pleasant Grove. He has also been the picture of Christ’s love around the community, Shannon said.
“He is the same whether you see him in the grocery store or the hospital or in the home or at church,” said Shannon.
Dunaway, who was known throughout the county for his extensive boot collection that he accumulated during his days in the boot industry, said he plans to remain a member at Pleasant Grove.
“I told (the congregation), if ya’ll don’t mind, I’d like to stay right here,” he said. “And they said they wished I would.”
He said announcing his resignation was one of the hardest things he’d ever done.
“I dreaded it worse than anything,” he said. “I’ve felt lost (since retiring). But I just felt like they needed a young pastor; someone who could get out and do things with them.”
Dunaway will leave an incredible legacy of longevity and love.
“He is one of the most consistent, most faithful men that you could ever meet,” said Shannon. “Whenever I was around him, whether things were going great or it was a difficult time, he was a constant.”