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Pastor’s death hits church, friends hard

POSTED: February 17, 2014 7:55 p.m.
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Jeff Rollins, who was pastor of First Baptist Church of Springfield for more than 25 years, was killed in a single-vehicle accident Saturday.

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Jeffrey Rollins’ length of tenure as pastor of First Baptist Church of Springfield spoke volumes about he how felt about his church, and how his church felt about him, the church’s deacon chairman said Monday.

Rollins, 55, died Saturday following a one-vehicle accident on Highway 119 near the Georgia-South Carolina state line. Rollins’ car went off the road and hit a tree around 5:15 p.m., according to investigators. Rollins was the only person in the car.

For more than 25 years, Rollins led First Baptist Church of Springfield, an extraordinary length of time for one pastor to be at one church.

“He was very much loved by the congregation,” said Vernon Hathcock, the church’s chairman of its deacons. “You would never find a person who loved a congregation more than him. He was a very loving individual who loved his people and loved the people in the community. He never thought about himself — it was always about somebody else, who he could minister to. He was very well thought of by the congregation, and that’s the reason he had such a long tenure at the church.”

Rollins was also very family-oriented, Hathcock said. Rollins and his wife Dorothy had four children and seven grandchildren.

“He thought the family came first, and then the church,” Hathcock said.

Church members also were organizing a week-long Tybee Island beach vacation for Rollins and his entire family. They were raising funds separate from the church treasury as an appreciation gift for Rollins’ 25 years at First Baptist of Springfield. Rollins was presented with the gift earlier this month. Rollins also was presented a plaque honoring his time with the church earlier this year.

“It was big enough for him and all his family, his parents and his in-laws, to have a vacation together,” Hathcock said of the Tybee condo. “He was very much thought of. The love he had for his congregation, the love he had for his family, that’s the reason he was there for 25 years-plus. He started on his 26th, and he might have been there for 35 years if the Lord hadn’t called him home.”

The regard in which Rollins was held extended beyond the church grounds, Hathcock added.

“He certainly had an impact on everybody he dealt with,” Hathcock said. “The pastors at other churches loved him. We’ve had so many pastors from other churches offer to supply pastors to come preach at our church in this time. Everybody’s been great.”

Said Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie: “Brother Jeff was one of the most selfless, giving and amazing people I have ever known. I felt privileged to have had him as a friend. He touched thousands of people in our community and will be greatly missed. I’m extremely proud to say that Jeff Rollins was my friend.”

David Pohto, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Surfside Beach, near Myrtle Beach, S.C., started his ministerial career under Rollins at FBC-Springfield. Pohto was youth minister at FBC-Springfield from 1990-94, having moved to Effingham County from California, straight out of the seminary.

“Brother Jeff, his family and the church welcomed me in and gave me my first full-time opportunity to serve in the church,” Pohto said. “Brother Jeff always provided the encouragement and support I needed to achieve, along with the opportunities to do so. I am where I am today because Brother Jeff had the wisdom to push me forward toward God’s calling for my life.”

Rollins also officiated at Pohto’s wedding and was there for the birth of his first child.

“Brother Jeff played a major role in my life not only as my pastor, my boss, but as my friend,” Pohto said.

Pohto credited his time working with Rollins for shaping how he runs his own church today.

“Much of my leadership skills I credit to serving under the leadership of Brother Jeff,” he said. “He demonstrated a great love of people, which grew from his love for our Lord. He was a humble man of God who led by example, never asking someone to do anything he himself would not do.”

Hathcock was the chairman of the deacons when Rollins joined FBC-Springfield. In his position as deacons chairman, Hathcock worked closely with Rollins.

“If you had a question, you could go talk to him,” Hathcock said. “I’d never seen the man upset. Every time I walked into his office with a problem somebody confronted me with — and being chairman of the deacons, you have that — I would talk to him about that. And he would always tell me, ‘Vernon, God is in control. Just let Him handle it, and you do the best you can.’ That’s the way he always put it.”

Hathcock said Sunday’s services, led by youth minister Rev. David Sharpe, were sad yet commended Sharpe on carrying the faithful through a difficult day.

“Everybody was mourning the death of Brother Jeff,” Hathcock said. “David did a fantastic job with the messages he brought in all three services.”

Pohto said he will miss his friend and mentor, someone he leaned on for his expertise and grace.

“Throughout the years, I have always known there was one man I could rely on for prayer, encouragement, support and advice when I needed it most, that being Brother Jeff,” he said. “I thank God I have had the privilege of serving with and knowing such an obedient man of God. It has been a privilege to call him my friend, and he will be greatly missed.”

Comments on the church’s Facebook page have been numerous on the sorrow expressed in the wake of Rollins’ death.

Visitation for Rollins will be held Tuesday night at the church, with funeral services to be conducted Wednesday at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church of Springfield.

“It really hasn’t hit us, like it will in the next few weeks,” Hathcock said. “It’s going to be hard put to think that he’s not there.”

“He leaves a void that is never going to heal,” McDuffie said, “but will pass. He spent his life telling us about a man that went before us to prepare a place for us that He will come again and take us unto Him. Now Brother Jeff sits with Him in His mansions, waiting for his family and friends.”

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