Charlton retires following 42 years as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church

Zach Vance • Dec 18, 2018 at 10:29 PM

One of the longest-serving pastors in Johnson City announced his retirement on Tuesday.

After 42-plus years, Dr. Charles H. Charlton has officially stepped down as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, 522 W. Main St., according to a press release sent by the church.

Charlton will now assume the role of pastor emeritus, and Rev. Lester Lattany will serve as the new pastor, the 11th person to do so in the church’s history.

“As I’ve told many folks when they’re talking about filling Dr. Charlton’s shoes, in every role I’ve tried to work in, I’ve never tried to fill the shoes, I’ve tried to stand on their shoulders. And he has some very broad shoulders that I will be able to stand on,” Lattany said.

For the past five months or so, Lattany has pastored temporarily for Friendship Baptist in the absence of Charlton, who had been out for medical reasons.

“The Friendship Baptist Church Family would like to thank Dr. Charlton for almost 43 years of leadership vision, and service to this church. It is our sincere prayer that God continues to bless him with healing and an opportunity of enjoyment in this season of his life and ministry,” the church’s press release stated.

A native of Radford, Virginia, Charlton has been a preacher for 58 years and a pastor for 55 years. He formerly pastored at Big Hill Baptist Church in Salem, Virginia; First Baptist Church in Elliston, Virginia; and First Baptist Church in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Daniel Parks, chairman of the Friendship Baptist deacons, remembers when his church first selected Charlton to be their pastor more than four decades ago. Parks said he had relatives in Southwest Virginia who highly recommended Charlton for the job.

“He came to Friendship (Baptist) as a stranger in town, and he gained and maintained the respect of the people in Johnson City,” Parks said.

“He’s been a super pastor, and he’s pastored the church with a personal touch, you might say. The church didn’t just boom whenever he came, but it grew gradually, both numerically and spiritually.”

In addition to his religious contributions, Charlton had a distinguished public service career, becoming the first African-American to serve as a mayor in Southwest Virginia and the first African-American Board of Education member in Radford, Virginia during the 1970s.

After his move to Johnson City, Charlton served a five-year term on the Johnson City Board of Education; six years on the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission and two years as vice mayor of Johnson City as part of a four-year term on its City Commission. Charlton also served as a member of the inaugural admissions committee for the ETSU Pharmacy School.

“Sometimes I’ve wondered, ‘How can you do that much in one lifetime?’ There are so many things God has blessed me to do, and I’m just grateful,” Charlton told the Johnson City Press on Tuesday.

Accomplishments aside, Charlton said the two most important moments of his life were becoming a Christian and marrying his wife of 58 years, Janet Lewis Charlton, who grew up in the same neighborhood as Charlton.

Known throughout the community as simply “Rev,” Charlton said he’ll never forget waking up one morning and hearing God tell him, “On Earth, we’re rehearsing for eternity,” a motto he’s used to guide his life and career.

“If you can’t love people, you’re not going to make it,” Charlton said. “I just think it’s so wonderful to be saved. God has been so good to me and blessed me so much.” 

Charlton said he especially cherishes the 23 years he spent as an associate professor at Northeast State Community College, where he taught reading, learning strategies, comparative religions, humanities, black studies and speed reading. 

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock, a friend of Charlton’s for at least 15 years, said the pastor brought that same enthusiasm for education into Friendship Baptist by creating a program called “Excellence in Education” that paired students within the church with mentors and tutors. 

For the past 13 years, Brock said Charlton has done the invocation at the annual Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving morning, but this year, as Charlton dealt with health issues, Brock didn’t expect him to make it.  

“He called me about four days before the Turkey Trot and said he wanted to come. And he did. For those of us who stood around, you couldn’t have had a more special moment,” said Brock, who described the prayer as being full of “optimism” and “enthusiasm.

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