Story and Photos by Jessica Isaacs | [email protected]
The Rev. Delmar James is one of four preachers who will be honored with their wives at a community-wide pastor appreciation event set for Saturday, Aug. 6 at the National Guard Armory in Boone. Click here to read more about the event and check out the July 2016 edition of High Country Magazine for the full story.
The Journey Begins
Born and raised in the Sugar Grove community, Delmar James grew up in his family’s home church at Willow Valley.
“I used to go to Willow Valley. That’s where I was saved and that’s where I was raised,” he said. “When we moved up to Vilas, I got to meet some of the young people at Willow Dale. I don’t remember exactly how it got started, but I visited there and eventually moved my membership there. That’s where I was first placed in leadership.
By his late teens and early 20s, Delmar was already closely involved with Willow Dale Baptist as a deacon, a youth director and a music director.
“I would do all of the announcements and everything. He would preach and he told me one day, ‘You’re my right hand man,’” he said. “I didn’t understand what he meant, but now I do.”
It was during this time that he made the acquaintance of Dianne, a girl he often saw traveling between churches and programs to sing with her family.
“The Craig family would go around signing to a lot of the churches and a lady she worked with was trying to get us sort of hooked up. I’d heard she was going to be at a singing one night, so I used to go to the church to see her,” he said. “Whenever I’d hear she would be there singing, I’d go. I can’t remember exactly when, but eventually I asked her out for a date.”
The rest was history for these two, who were both in their mid-20s at the time.
“With her family being a singing group, we went to a lot of singings together. That was our dating,” he said. “We dated for about six months and we did most of our dating at church.”
They were married in late June, and, together, their strong faith and trust in the Lord were the beginning of what would soon become a lifetime of ministry.
As he continued to take on more responsibility at Willow Dale, he drew closer and closer to God and felt more and more that there was a call on his life.
“I was at a revival at Willow Dale. I’d always had this tug about preaching,” he said. “I would dream about preaching, and every time an invitation was given at the church it seemed like it was always pointing at me, like I needed to rededicate my life to the Lord.”
Although ministry was clearly on his heart, he still didn’t feel ready to preach.
“Eventually, it got to the point where my pastor said, ‘You’re gonna have to quit rededicating and start doing what the Lord calls you to do,’” he explained. “So, that was when I answered the call.”
After preaching in a few local churches, he received his first invitation to a fulltime pastorate, but he will still doubting his abilities.
“There was a little church in Tennessee called Bethel Baptist. They called me over to fill in and I went over there for a few months,” he said. “They called me as their pastor and I was so shy and so scared of being that, even though I’d announced my call to preach, that I rejected that call. So, I came back and thought maybe just doing the youth ministry, leading the choir and being a deacon was what I was supposed to do.”
God has a way of really getting our attention when He needs us, and that’s exactly what he did for Delmar. When he was forced to undergo emergency surgery after complications following a nearly ruptured appendix, he found himself hospitalized for more than a month.
“That was back in the gas crisis when you’d have to stand in line a long time to get gas. I don’t remember exactly when that was, but I remember my wife telling me how long she had to wait,” he explained. “I was in the hospital for 35 days. While I was there, God really got my attention. He said, ‘You need to surrender your life to me.’”
Following that message, just when Delmar was feeling discouraged enough to believe he might not make back home, an angel of his own showed up to speak to him.
“There was an orderly in the hospital. He came to me and he saw that I had given up. He said, ‘You’ll never get out of here. You’ll never get out of here,” said Delmar. “He made me so mad that I was determined to get up, and I surrendered my life to the Lord then, and I told Him I was willing to go anywhere.”
Shortly thereafter, he received an invitation to preach at a little brick church in the Meat Camp community called Proffit’s Grove Baptist.
“In March of 1976, they called me to be their pastor. I currently working at the Coca Cola Company, and I had worked there for about 10 years. I don’t know how long it was before I quit my job to be fulltime at Proffit’s Grove, but the church started growing,” said Delmar. “I intended to go to Fruitland Bible College in Hendersonville, but God was just blessing the church so much that I felt like I didn’t have time to do that. I was working fulltime at Coca Cola and pastoring fulltime for a while.”
Eventually, he started preaching part-time at Laurel Fork, too.
“I did that for a while, but I felt led by the Lord to preach both Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights,” he said. “The church decided to do that, and that’s when I felt the need quit my job at Coca Cola.”
Unsure how to proceed with maintaining their responsibilities without the income of Delmar’s job, he and Dianne took a leap of faith and put their trust in God.
“I stepped out on faith as far as finances were concerned. My wife was working at ASU in the registrar’s office and I didn’t know how it was going to affect us, but we stepped out,” he explained. “We went to fulltime, the church voted us in, God took control of our finances and we’ve been there ever since.”
This year makes four decades that Delmar and Dianne have been at Proffit’s Grove. It’s become their home, and they have seen it blossom in so many ways since they first arrived in 1976.
“When I first went there, there were around 60 or 70 people. Since I first started there, a lot of our older folks that where there when I came have passed on,” he said.
We have had a lot of folks join, though, and our attendance now is averaging around 110. We’ve been up and down in attendance, but we have really some really great deacons and really great leadership.”
More than a growth in numbers, however, Delmar has been privileged to witness a spiritual growth at Proffit’s Grove and in its community.
“I have a praying church. I have a loving church. I have a giving church,” he explained. “You can ask them at the last minute, as long as you tell them the details and as much as you know, and they will help. There have been times we’d find out on Wednesday about a certain need, so I’d tell the church and they would always, always help.”
While Proffit’s Grove is nestled into a unique community on the outskirts of the county, it draws in a regular crowd of members and visitors who travel outside of their own areas to be a part of the family.
“We have several people that come to church here that don’t live here in the community. They drive from outside of it, and that’s another thing that has changed since I’ve been here,” he said. “We also have a good youth group and young adult group.”
Proffit’s Grove is home for Delmar and Dianne, that’s for sure.
“I’ve seen spiritual growth here, but the loving and giving nature was probably here before I came. I didn’t have anything to do with it, that’s just who they are,” he said. “They are a fine church and they’ve been so good to us. I have made a lot of mistakes as a pastor, and they have forgiven me and overlooked that.
“We have had our ups and downs and issues like any other churches, but everyone always seems to come together and agree to work it out.”
They love being part of the Proffit’s Grove family, but they know they wouldn’t have been able to make it 40 years on their own.
“To be at a church that long is not because of the pastor, but because of the Lord keeping him there and a good church supporting him,” said Delmar.
At Proffit’s Grove, Delmar’s mission remains the same as it would if he were anywhere else: “to preach the gospel, to get the truth out and to help people in need.”
“That’s not just for the pastor, but it’s also for the church,” he said.
The couple says they’re flattered to be honored by the greater faith community this summer for their continued service, although they’ve never felt comfortable standing in the limelight.
“I’ve never felt worthy of any recognition because God knows our hearts. It feels really backward to think of our name in the headlines,” said Delmar. “Dianne is the same way. We are no different from any pastor that’s been in their church for one year, but we do feel very honored to be considered.”
As for the future, the two say they’re very attached to their Proffit’s Grove family, but they are, first and foremost, servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“I have never felt that strong urge to leave Proffit’s Grove, although that could change tomorrow. We are such a family. After being there for 40 years, you become really connected,” Delmar explained. “These people are not my blood kin, but I’m as close to my church family as I am to my own relatives; not because we don’t love each other, but because the church treats us like family and we feel like family.
“I’ve told my deacons this before. If my health ever gets to the place where I don’t think I can pastor I will resign for the church’s sake; but, when and if that time comes, it will be the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do. They have always taken care of us. I know every pastor should feel that way, but all I can says is that, to me, this is the best church in the world.”