Rev. Watson Wasden, age 90, has served Antioch West Baptist Church for more than half a century.
Sunday, Jan. 10, after five decades of bringing people together as the pastor, Preacher Watson preached his last sermon before entering into retirement.
For fifty-four years Watson Wasden, referred to by many as “Preacher Watson,” has led the congregation of Antioch West Baptist Church with unparalleled devotion, preaching from the church’s pulpit thousands of times including Sunday morning worship service, Sunday night service and Wednesday evening service. He has devoted his days to praying for Antioch’s members, the community, and others.
Wasden, who announced his plans for retirement in 2020, said, “Time sure does slip by in a hurry. Fifty four years here at Antioch West and it has been a privilege to serve this church,” said Wasden. “I am very appreciative of the church, its members, and the deacons.”
Wasden has led numerous souls to Christ, performed countless baptisms, united numerous couples in holy matrimony, and directed many funerals. From his very first sermon to Antioch West Baptist Church on Jan., 7, 1967 to his last on Jan. 10, 2021, he has been a faithful and dedicated pastor, friend and leader.
Wasden served as a deacon and music director for Antioch West for 11 years prior to his joining the ministry. “I was born in this community, only about 200 feet away from where my house is now,” Wasden said. “When you have a real good community filled with good people, it’s easy to minister to them.”
However, Wasden admitted that following God’s plan for his life was initially a difficult battle. It was sometime after being drafted into the Korean Conflict in March 1951 that he began to consider a higher call to service.
“I worked construction and I really loved it. I worked for Riley’s Lumber and Supply for 18 years before I went into ministry. But the Lord really laid it on my heart,” Wasden said.
“It was a hard battle, and I didn’t want to give in—but He finally won. And once I surrendered to God’s call, everything in my life settled down and began to work out to God’s will.”
When asked to describe Preacher Watson, longtime church member, Shelia Griffin Salter said he is without a doubt a true, genuine man of faith, with godly character and integrity.
“The life he has lived through his years of service, and continues to live on a daily basis, is a living testimony of his faith and his belief in God,” said Salter.
“He says faith and obedience go hand in hand; you cannot have one without the other; if you are faithful you will be obedient, and if you are obedient you will be faithful. What a powerful testimony – to live such a life of service and faithfulness to God and to preach it from the pulpit as well. Preacher Watson, may we all follow your footsteps. Thank you and praise God for your commitment and years of service to Antioch West Baptist Church – we love you.”
Longtime church deacon and friend, Harold Turner, said that there are not many who’ve known Watson longer than he has. “Brother Watson is the definition of someone who leads by example,” said Turner.
“He demonstrates his love for God each and every day. He’s truly lived God’s word and he has been so faithful to the church and its people.”
During the church service, special music was presented by Aaron Ledbetter, who sang Wasden’s favorite song, “The Anchor Holds”, which Ledbetter said perfectly describes Wasden’s faithfulness to God and church.
“It’s rare to have the same man lead the church for 54 years – Christ is truly at the center of Watson’s life,” said Ledbetter.
Ledbetter said he was asked by choir director and deacon, Bill Farrar, to pick a second song to sing that was appropriate for the occasion.
“I prayed about it and the second song I chose was a tribute to Brother Watson, titled “Thank you for giving to the Lord.”
Ledbetter said that’s exactly what Brother Watson has done his whole life – and we all thank him for Giving to the Lord.
Farrar said “committed” is the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks of Wasden. “Preacher Watson is such a blessing to this church. You have to go far and wide to find a pastor that has been with a church for 54 years. Preacher Watson is committed and he is steadfast,” said Farrar.
Wasden’s last message from the pulpit was on the importance of keeping Christ at the center of life. “To be successful in anything you do, Christ must be at the center of everything you do,” said Wasden.
“We cannot afford to leave God out of our life. For a church to be effective in a community, Christ must be at the center. When Christ is at the center of church, the church will lead the community,” he said.
“If you turn to God, seek Him and trust Him, he will bless you. A house shall stand and never decay where the all mighty God is worshiped day by day,” said Watson.
The congregation, along with family and friends, offered their thanks for his service and dedication. “Thank you for being the Godly example that you’ve been,” said church member, Kay Lightfoot. “We love you and Mrs. Grace and we are so thankful for you,” said church member, Billie Coker.
Deacon and longtime church member, and friend, James Coker, said Wasden has been his preacher and his friend for many years. “We’ve prayed together, hunted together, and went on vacations together over the years,” said Coker.
“I’ve learned a lot being around him. He’s always lived for the Lord and put God first. We’ve had a lot of good times together.”
Deacon Allen Till said it is hard to truly put into words what Wasden means to the church. “He’s known me since I’ve been born,” said Till.
“He is spiritually strong and a spiritual leader. Preacher Watson has always led by example, remaining rock solid through the good and the bad times. Even in the loss of one of his own family, he’s never once wavered in his faith and service to God.
“Not only has he given his sermons by mouth but through the example of how he lives his life. He demonstrates what he preaches every single day and in every aspect of his life.”
At the end of the service, Deacon Doug Thomas, who presented Watson with a plaque of appreciation for 54 years of service, said that Brother Watson has been a good friend and pastor since his very first day of preaching in 1967.
“He has baptized, married, and buried our loved ones, family and friends. He has spent countless hours and days visiting the sick, those in need, members of the church and community,” said Thomas.
“I hate to see him go as our pastor but I am so happy that he can enjoy this new chapter of retirement.”
In addition to the plaque of appreciation, Thomas also presented Watson with a letter of recognition from the Alabama Historical Commission.
Wasden and his wife, Grace, live in the Sandcut community where he says he still plans to be active.
“God has been good to Grace and I, to our church and community, and I am grateful to the Lord,” said Wasden.