The Louisiana Baptist Convention (LBC) has honored Jonesville native and former First Baptist Church of Vidalia pastor Dr. Ralph Webber as Louisiana Retired Pastor of the Year.
The honor came earlier this month at during LBC’s Convention in Ruston.
Webber retired as Director of Missions for LBC in 1997. He spent 68 years in the ministry, starting out at Utility Baptist Church in Jonesville in 1954.
The LBC donated money for a scholarship to Louisiana College for a future student in honor of Webber and his wife, Ann, who have been married for 64 years.
"There have been some wonderful people God has brought into my life," Webber said. "And it's through the grace of God and to him be the glory. This is a wonderful honor. I feel it is undeserved, but appreciate them doing that. But being a Christian and being able to serve has been reward enough."
Webber continues to serve as a supply pastor, filling in when a church's pastor is out of town.
"We made so many friends here we decided to move back," Webber said of returning to Vidalia after retirement.
Webber also continues leading Bible studies -- just completing a study on Revelation at First Baptist Church in Vidalia -- and conducting funerals.
"I'm not able to do as many of those as I used to," he said. "It's not as easy it used to be."
Webber said his mother and father were “strong, wonderful” Christians. He was baptized around the age of seven and around the age of 10 began feeling the need to look into ministry work.
"After my father died (at age 39), J.O. McNair, a preacher in Jonesville, took me under his wing and became like a father to me," Webber said. "I started preaching at the age of 16."
Webber was ordained in 1950 when he was attending Louisiana College.
He received his Bachelor of Arts degree at Louisiana College and his Masters of Divinity degree and Doctrine in Ministry at New Orleans Theological Seminary.
The Webbers arrived in Vidalia in 1969 after serving at Suburban Baptist Church in New Orleans. Webber supervised 78 churches with the LBC.
"I just felt like the Lord wanted me here," said Webber, who would pastor FBC Vidalia for 13 years before going to work for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
Webber headed one of the first expansion projects at FBC Vidalia.
"We had so many people coming, so we decided to build a larger auditorium," Webber said. "We built it to hold 600 people. It's been expanded even more since then."
Webber was also responsible for the 63-foot steeple on the church. One of the first things he noticed when he arrived in Vidalia was a tall whiskey bottle sign by McDonough's Liquors.
"I thought how much better it would be to have a steeple as a sign of Christianity," he said.
The whiskey sign stood for many years before a storm brought it tumbling down. But the steeple still stands, having been moved to the top of the new sanctuary when the latest renovation was completed.
Webber has been a part of expansion projects at every church he has pastored, from his first church -- Utility Baptist Church in Jonesville -- to Sicily Island to LaPlace to Suburbia in New Orleans.
Webber served as pastor at seven churches, and as interim pastor at about 10 others.
Webber said one of the top highlights of his ministry was spending two weeks in South Korea in the 1990s near the North Korea border.
"That was quite an experience," he said. "We also visited Israel."
The Webbers attend First Baptist Church in Vidalia.
"Dr. Webber is the model for pastoral humility," said FBC Vidalia pastor Wes Faulk. "He served and continues to serve FBC Vidalia faithfully. The reason FBC Vidalia is a healthy church is because of Dr. Webber's leadership."
Webber has seen several changes during his ministry.
"When I was growing up people would go to Sunday School and then leave," he said. "You don't have as many people going to Sunday School now."
The 88-year-old Webber said he plans on continuing to serve the Lord.
"I will do whatever He intends me to do," he said.