Bishop Robert S. Davis Sr., senior pastor of Long Reach Church of God in Columbia, sat in his office one morning last week, looked at the plaques, pictures and certificates that cover the walls and reminisced about the 30 years he has served the church.
He smiled while talking about the five-family meeting in his house during the summer of 1972 that eventually launched the church.
Davis laughed while discussing how the church held services in places such as Phelps Luck Elementary School and Long Reach Village Community Center before constructing its building in 1985.
But Davis, 64, who will officially step down Dec. 31 after 30 years, showed true joy in talking about his successor - his son, Robert S. Davis Jr.
The church held a celebration last week, "Crossing the Waters of Transition," which commemorated the elder Davis' years with the church and ended with a "Passing of the Baton" ceremony involving his son Sunday night.
The weeklong celebration served as the church's official goodbye to a man parishioners have loved for years. Pastors and guests from across the country (Ohio, California, Michigan) and Bermuda arrived to join the celebration.
Minister Henry Dawson of Columbia has been on the Long Reach Church of God staff for nearly three years and said the elder Davis helped many people by simply being available in every situation. Davis always found a way to be there when anyone needed to talk, regardless of the time or place or problem.
Dawson said many were impressed by qualities such as Davis' ability to remember people's names, even if they saw him only for a few moments. Davis met Dawson and his family at a Sunday service but remembered the family's name the next time he saw them - three years later.
'We're doubly blessed'
"We will miss him as our senior pastor," Dawson said. "But much of his ways we see in his son. We're not saying that his son is he. He's a unique individual, but his son is very caring, compassionate and a good listener. We're doubly blessed."
Minister Larry Walker had been involved in a Florida church where issues of integrity about the pastor were raised. Walker went to Long Reach in 1986 looking for stability in his church life.
The Ellicott City resident found it at Davis' Church of God and now serves as division leader for the church's cell ministry - small groups that meet regularly to encourage personal and spiritual growth and for discussion. Walker said Davis' leadership has been a steadying influence.
"I came here looking for a church where the leadership was leadership I could follow," Walker said. "He's certainly lived a life before the community and the church that's in the highest in integrity."
Davis has traveled all over the world in his work but is not melancholy about stepping down. He is viewing it as a time to move on to life's next challenge - and he is ready.
"After 30 years of leading this congregation, there's all kinds of emotions coming out," Davis said. "I'm just excited about passing the baton into the hands of someone who I see as a very capable person."
Robert S. Davis Jr. - who goes by "Robbie" - has been a fixture at the church nearly as long as his father and said he welcomed the chance to step into the job. He ran through the hallways as a child, worked full time at the church for 15 years and said it has been a lifelong training track for him.
The 36-year-old graduate of Hammond High School is married to Robin Davis, and they have six children. He spent about a year at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., doing post-graduate work in church history.
"I credit my father with his raising me and mentoring me as a pastor," Robbie Davis said. "He has really formatted me to be me, and he's always celebrated my uniqueness. We're very much alike, but we're very different."
Davis Sr. decided to join the church after making a midlife change. He had worked as a forensic chemist with the Baltimore Police Department for six years and a research analyst with the Library of Congress before coming to the church.
Long Reach Church of God, which is affiliated with the 750,000-member Church of God (Anderson, Ind.), first served about 20 people, dating to the 1972 meeting in Davis' house.
Davis now walks away a happy man because the church has grown to about 1,500 parishioners who will have his son to lead them. Many church members said that they looked up to the elder Davis.
He is in the process of packing up his office and moving out.
However, his presence will still be felt. Davis Sr. will have another office at the church and will hold the title of covering bishop.
"But I walk away with extreme joy and anticipation at what more God is going to do through Pastor Robbie's leadership," he said. "He will be responsible for the spiritual leadership and the physical leadership of the Long Reach Church of God, and I'll be glad to see it."