MOUNT VERNON — The Rev. Carl Hankins is amazed at how quickly 84 years has gone by.
“When I think about my 51 years of marriage it seems like a dream, when I think about being at the church for 30 years, I think it couldn’t been have that long,” said Hankins, who on Sunday will be retiring from Mount Liberty Advent Christian Church.
When Hankins recalled his childhood growing up in church and attending every Sunday with his seven siblings, mother and father, he remembers the precious moments with his family and the church fellowship.
“I never heard any filth come out of my father’s or mother’s mouth, never heard them arguing,” he said. “Church was a part of our life because back then there was no other place else to go, but we didn’t mind going. And the church I grew up in was just like the church I’m in now.”
Hankins spent his younger years in “old” Virginia prior to living a year in Akron working for Continental Bakery. When Hankins turned 18, he registered and entered the U.S. Army in 1945. While in basic training the war ended, though his days as a soldier continued on until his discharge in November 1946.
“I was overseas in Salzburg, Austria, during the Army’s occupation,” said Hankins. “I was in the Army for 20 months and 20 days.”
In 1947, his family moved to Sparta and he started working for Pittsburgh Plate Glass, where he stayed until his retirement.
For many years Hankins said his life was miserable. He can remember his troubles with alcohol before he turned his life around.
“And for 10 years that was my life, weekend drinking, but I never let it take a hold of me and never let it interfere with my driving or my work,” he said. “It just seemed like I couldn’t run away from it. In those years when I was drinking and doing everything else, I would come home on Saturday night and cry. But when I thought all those years and no church, in those 10 years God didn’t leave me alone. God’s been so patient with me.”
Life for Hankins began to change when he met his beloved, Pauline. They were married in 1956 and moved to a farm in Morrow County with his two stepdaughters, Crystal and Linda. Later they moved to Mount Vernon.
In 1962, Hankins made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as his savior during an invitational at church, and it opened a door to what Hankins felt was his destiny — to preach.
“All my life, as far as I can remember, I felt like [preaching] is what God wanted me to do but I ran from it. I didn’t want to do it, I was always shy,” said Hankins. “At the time the church had a pool table in the basement and [the pastor and I] were down there shooting pool. I said to him, ‘Bob, I feel like God is wanting me to go into the ministry.’ He looked at me and said, ‘How do you feel about getting in the pulpit on Sunday.’ And that was the beginning of it.”
He started filling in for the pastor when it was needed, then in 1980 the pastor of the church left and Hankins was asked to take his position. Two years later he became a licensed minister.
“I have no education, I have grade school education, I never went to high school. And that’s one thing I thought, ‘I can’t do these things.’ But God said ‘yes, you can.’ This is one thing that makes me love God so deeply,” said Hankins. “I never gave it a second thought when I took over the church in 1980 or how long I might be there. Most pastors don’t stay at one church for long. And when you’re there at the church for that long, everyone becomes like a family — brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Hankins’ greatest memories as pastor at Mount Liberty Advent Christian Church was seeing people come to know Jesus Christ and experiencing the joy of baptizing his great-grandchildren.
“The experiences that you have are just unbelievable,” he said. “It’s wonderful to be an instrument in God’s hands, and that’s what we are.”
This Sunday, Hankins will give his last sermon before family, friends and church members, followed by a potluck meal.
“Mentally, I feel that I could have still gone on, but physically, I know I need to take it a little easier. It will be my last sermon as pastor but it won’t be my last sermon,” said Hankins.