Wilson Henderson credits hard work and loving people as basics of his ministry
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
COLUMBIA — On the last day of December in 2000, Wilson Henderson retired after about 45 years as a minister of music, including the last 13 at Dalewood Baptist Church in Nashville.
In April of 2001 Henderson was contacted by Highland Park Baptist Church in Columbia to see if he would “supply” for a few weeks. Before the year was over the supply status had turned to “interim” and later “permanent part-time.”
Fifteen years later, the 76-year-old Henderson will retire once again (this time after 60 years of ministry) as he plans to step down at Highland Park on July 17.
Henderson acknowledged that he really thought he was through with his music ministry after retiring from Dalewood but God had other plans.
He considers Highland Park his “dessert” church. “God saved the best for last,” he affirmed though he is quick to point out he had great ministries at each of the three other churches he served after completing seminary.
Henderson began serving as a minister of music at the age of 16 at Eutaw (Ala.) Baptist Church. After completing high school, he served other churches while attending Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., and later Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.
He inherited his love for music from his father Wilson Henderson and grew up listening to his dad and uncles sing every Saturday night at his grandparents’ house. “I was listening and learning and didn’t even know it then,” Henderson recalled.
The Alabama native originally planned to attend Auburn (Ala.) University and become an architect but God directed him to Samford, a Baptist-affiliated school. While attending a gathering on campus prior to enrolling, Henderson was asked what his major would be. He replied “music,” not knowing that he had to audition to be accepted as a music major.
After learning that fact, Henderson saw a light on in the school’s music building late on a Sunday night and tapped on the window. George Koski, head of the school was there and after Henderson explained his situation, he was given an audition on the spot. The next day Henderson enrolled as a music major. “God opened a door to a new career,” he recalled.
After graduating from Samford and Southern Seminary, Henderson accepted the call as minister of music at First Baptist Church, Decatur, Ala. While there he married his seminary sweetheart, Charline Dunn, and began to hone his talents as a music minister. During those years he organized music missions trips to England that continued until 2000. In 1973-74 he was granted a year of absence from FBC so he and his family could move to Gravesend, Kent, England, for a year where he and his wife organized the music ministry in 10 British Baptist churches. “That was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” he said.
He also began what would become almost an annual tradition with presentations of Handel’s “Messiah.” Those presentations were held in all of his churches after seminary and college. He concluded his last (and 41st) presentation at Highland Park this past December.
Henderson served in Decatur for 13 years before accepting a call to First Baptist Church, Columbus, Miss., in 1978. By his own account, he had a productive ministry there for 10 years before moving to Nashville and Dalewood Baptist in 1988.
Mark Proctor, pastor of Highland Park, has ministered with Henderson for five years. He observed that Henderson has had a productive ministry for 60 years because “he has a pastor’s heart. He loves people.”
Henderson’s ministry has basically been with “traditional” churches, but he has incorporated a “blended” style of music with both hymns and praise music.
“I always felt music ministry should be like a smorgasbord by providing some of everything so you can touch everybody along the way,” he said. People will be missed if a worship service includes only hymns or praise music, he said. “Blended worship is the way to go.”
And, apparently it has proven to be very effective for Henderson. Proctor observed that Henderson’s music is so well received by the congregation because “Wilson’s passion for the people in the pews equals or maybe surpasses his passion for the performance on the platform.
“He is indeed a shepherd in the truest sense of the word. It’s his genuineness in the worship service that leads the congregation so easily into the presence of God. Our people trust him,” the pastor observed.
“The best thing I could say about him myself would be what a rare privilege it is for any pastor to step on the platform every Sunday with never a worry about the excellence of worship,” Proctor added.
As Henderson prepares for his second “retirement,” his advice for music ministers today is simple: “Work hard, don’t ask anyone to do what you wouldn’t do yourself, love the people, and pray.”
He admits the adjustment will be hard but he wants to do it to spend more time with his wife, five children, and 11 grandchildren.
While not sure how he will handle retirement, he does know that he has been blessed in every church he has served, and especially the last one. “The people of Highland Park have been wonderful to me and my family. They have responded to our ministry, participated wonderfully, loved us, and cared for us. … God has been and is so good and faithful to me,” he said.