J.T. Witcher gave his first sermon at Double Springs Baptist Church when he was 15. He wore khaki pants and a blue shirt, which he forgot to tuck in before stepping to the pulpit.
He was nervous, but as he later said, “If you’re not fearful when you step behind the pulpit, something is wrong.”
Witcher, now 20 years old, is considerably better kept these days; he wears a shirt and tie, and along with the glasses that constantly slide down his cherubic face, he looks the part of a preacher.
But he’s still only 20, and after filling in on Sundays for several years, he was voted to be pastor of Double Springs Baptist, which was founded in 1816, last October.
There’s no official record of pastor’s ages in the county like there are of the churches themselves, but that surely makes him Walton County’s youngest pastor at Walton County’s oldest church.
Witcher grew up going to Double Springs, where his family has attended church for generations. His father and grandfather were both deacons.
When Witcher was 15, he felt like his future was in church leadership as well.
“It was just a crystal clear feeling that I needed to preach,” he said.
That clarity of purpose had been evident in Witcher for a while. Growing up, people would often sigh and say, “Oh he’s going to be a preacher.”
At age 15, church leaders anointed him as a representative of the church and licensed him to preach. He wasn’t a full-blown minister yet, but he was close.
In 2013, Double Springs’ pastor was a man named Jimmy Glaze. Witcher started filling for Glaze soon after he was anointed and then a few years later, Glaze had heart surgery and Witcher preached for five months.
In 2017, Glaze moved on and the church elders voted Witcher to take on full time pastoral duties. He was ordained Oct. 8, 2017 and gave his first sermon on the woman at the well.
It’s been almost nine months since he first took the reins, and it hasn’t all been easy. Witcher is also working toward a degree in elementary education at Georgia Gwinnett College, and being a full-time college student and a full-time pastor is a challenge, he says.
Things can just pile up.
“One time a college bill came in a little more than I expected, and the same day the school messed up my schedule,” Witcher said, “And the next day my grandmother was going for cancer treatments. That was a hard week.”
It was especially difficult because that grandmother, Gertrude Witcher, was one of his closest friends.
“She’d always tell me, ‘Whatever your field is, just do your best,” Witcher said.
When she died recently, Witcher preached at her funeral. It was his first funeral as a pastor.
“I don’t really even remember what I said. It was definitely one of those moments when I needed people to pray for me too.” Witcher said.
Gertrude Witcher is buried in the cemetery next to the centuries-old church, and Witcher visits her grave often.
He plans on being the pastor at Double Springs for as long he can, even when he eventually launches his other career as an elementary school teacher. Witcher has a few visions for his church, like running a vacation bible school for the first time in its history this summer. But mostly, he says, he doesn’t mind if the historic church stays the same.
“We’ve been here for 202 years,” he said, “I don’t want to change a thing about it.