PANAMA CITY (FBW)—For almost half the 111-year history of Immanuel Baptist Church in Panama City, Evelyn Carter worked in the church office as general secretary and bookkeeper. After 54 years, she retired Feb. 27.
When Carter began working at Immanuel Baptist in 1958, correspondence was done on a manual typewriter with carbon paper, and bulletins were made with stencils and a mimeograph machine. Financial records were literal books with hand-made entries. She was thrilled when the church purchased an IBM Selectric typewriter with a broad carriage. Now Carter appreciates the speed of computers that make her work “so much easier,” she said.
Whatever machines were in the office, Carter says it was the church people who made her work a joy to do.
“There are a lot of wonderful people here—the most wonderful I have ever known,” she said.
Adolph Bledsole was pastor of Immanuel Baptist when Carter joined the church with her parents and siblings in 1948 after they moved from the Callahan area of Panama City. She married Airman Loren Ferguson a few months after she graduated from high school in 1951.
“We were young and immature, but we grew up fast,” she said.
Ferguson, a New York native, persuaded his bride to move to his home state so he could find a job, but when the job search was unsuccessful, she persuaded him to return to sunny Florida.
“If we were going to starve, at least we could do it in warm weather,” Carter chuckled.
After the couple’s return to Panama City, Pastor Bledsole asked Evelyn Ferguson to work as church secretary, and she served with Bledsole 20 years until his retirement in 1978. During those years, the church had its highest attendance, around 600, when a bus ministry was active and when the Millville neighborhood was full of young families.
Evelyn Carter’s life and her church’s life changed during her 54-year career. Loren Ferguson died in 1991, and she and family friend T. M. (Zeek) Carter married in 2001. The church’s neighborhood is now “an older neighborhood” and “off the beaten path,” she said. The 100 who attend Immanuel Baptist now are mostly senior adults, she said.
“We have a beautiful church building and did a major renovation not long ago. Even if I am not working there, I want to do everything I can do to help the church. I love Immanuel,” she said.
Current Pastor Chris Roberts, still “the new guy” after three years as pastor, is the eighth pastor Carter has worked with at Immanuel Baptist. She has been, and will remain, an invaluable resource for him, he said.
“She is my best source of information on families in the church and on church history. She doesn’t just know about the church history—she was there,” he said. “I know she loves this church. You don’t stay in a job 54 years without loving it.”
As Carter’s job became part-time, only one day a week, Carter found it was “hard to do everything in one day.” Especially as she prepared for retirement, she worked more days per week to leave everything in good shape.
Carter is “an inspiration” to the church, Pastor Roberts told Florida Baptist Witness.
“She has modeled faithfulness and sacrifice, and her job has been much more than just a paycheck,” he said.
After retirement, Carter, 78, hopes to fully recover from a broken ankle and to spend more time with her husband. She looks forward to visits with her sister who lives in Texas, although “we won’t be driving ourselves anymore,” she said. The Carters intend to remain faithful in attending church activities.
“It was time to retire, and I guess my ankle nudged me into it. I hope to enjoy life every day to its best,” she said.
Her letter to the church announcing her retirement assured the congregation of her continued prayer that it be a “lighthouse in this community.”
Through the years Immanuel Baptist members filled her office with pictures and replicas of lighthouses. On her 25th anniversary with the church, the congregation gave her a painting of the Gasparilla Island Lighthouse south of Tampa in which Carter lived the first seven years of her life.
Carter said it didn’t seem very long since her days in the lighthouse until her retirement.
“It doesn’t seem possible that it has been so long, and that I’ve worked at the church so long. As I get older, I think time just goes faster,” she smiled.
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