As a young man, Bill Robertson felt it his calling to preach the Gospel. In the spring of 1963, only two years after becoming a Christian, Robertson delivered his first sermon at his home church in Jacksonville, Florida.
Last Wednesday marked Robertson’s 50th year as a minister. There were no lavish celebrations to commemorate the occasion. Robertson would not have wanted it that way. The long time pastor at Elizabeth Chapel Baptist Church prefers to give the Lord credit for any of his accomplishments. "I am thankful that God has used me to whatever extent He feel’s like He’s been able to use me to preach the Gospel and to see a lot of people saved. I’ve baptized a lot of people, got to marry and do funerals for people. There have been so many opportunities I’ve had to do things that have hopefully made some difference in people’s lives. I’ve enjoyed it and I still do to this day. I’m thankful that I serve God who, even after all these years, still excites me and he very often surprises me," said Robertson.
Born and raised in northeast Florida, Robertson moved to Nashville in the early 1960's where he attended a trade school. It was only after returning to Florida upon finishing school that Robertson realized God had other plans for him "I was saved in 1961 in Jacksonville, Florida and stayed there for a couple of months. I had already planned to go to Nashville to trade school and I did. Upon finishing trade school, I moved back to Jacksonville for a year and it was during that time that I really felt God calling me to preach. The church where I was a member agreed with me and they allowed me to preach my first sermon on March 20, 1963 and that is what I’ve done ever since," said Robertson.
After getting married in 1964, Robertson began to travel, ministering at churches in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, and back to Florida before finally coming to Smithville in 1986. "I moved back here (Tennessee) in 1963. My wife Judy and I married in 1964 and I began to pastor at McEwen, Tennessee in the Deer Creek community, which was very rural. I went from there to St. Mary’s Georgia, which is down on the coast of Georgia. I pastored there for a few years before moving to Trinity, Alabama which is just west of Decatur. Those were the two biggest churches I ever pastored. We moved from there to northeast Ohio and began church planning with our home mission board as it was called in those days. We were in northeast Ohio for seven years before moving back to Florida, where we located in St. Augustine and began a church there in an area where there were literally going to be thousands of new homes built. They never got built but the church is still there. I pastored another church in Florida before coming to Smithville in July, 1986," said Robertson.
It was through his son that Robertson learned about Elizabeth Chapel. "My son (Bill) went to college at Belmont with a young man from Smithville. Bill came home with him occasionally on the weekends. Just in conversation this fellow’s dad told Bill there’s a church here in Smithville that doesn’t have a pastor. Do you think your dad would be interested? Bill had no idea of course. To make a long story short, I sent a resume to my son Bill and he took it to the director of missions at that time here in our association of Baptist churches. Somehow, the resume got to Elizabeth Chapel’s pulpit committee and the rest is history. That’s how we wound up being introduced here and we will have been here 27 years in July," said Robertson.
Smithville was not totally unknown to Robertson before he and his family arrived here in 1986. He had passed through here twice before. "When I was in trade school in 1962, a friend of mine lived in Alcoa and we left on Friday evening after school and drove to Alcoa and we must have gone through Smithville. I don’t know that for sure but I think we did. And after Judy and I married and we were expecting our first child, we actually came to Smithville and we went camping with some friends at Floating Mill over a weekend," he said.
Over the years, Smithville has become home to Robertson. After his first wife died, Robertson remarried. Altogether, the couple have eleven children and twenty four grandchildren. "My wife, Joyce, and I married in 1990 after the death of my first wife, Judy and Joyce's first husband, Paul. Joyce and I together have eleven children. One died in 2000. We do have ten children who are alive and twenty four grandchildren. Joyce has been very well received in Smithville and had a pretty good career teaching here. She just retired in December. Smithville has become home to us. We own our own home. We vote here. We shop here. Our friends are here. We have burial plots here. I really do enjoy the small town. Where I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida it’s around a million people now and when I go back there I cringe at the thought of ever having to live there again because of the size of the city. I don’t think I ever will. I like Smithville. The people have received me well. My children have grown up here. At least most of them. Eight of my children have graduated from high school here. Only two actually still live in the area. I would see no reason ever to leave unless the Lord would lead me somewhere else. I would be very quick to move at that point and time," said Robertson.
While he still enjoys preaching, Robertson acknowledges the day will come when he will have to slow down. But don’t look for him to retire. "My favorite things in the ministry are preaching of course. That’s number one. I enjoy visiting and talking with people, just making conversations. I really enjoy telling them about Jesus Christ as savior and those are the highlights really. My children used to say that I would get in a zone when I preach and I still get in that zone. I love to preach a great deal. I enjoy being around town and being known around town. I’ve enjoyed the ball games and being involved with the schools, the hospital, Red Cross blood drives, and Relay for Life. I also thoroughly enjoy coming out to the radio station every seven weeks to do a five minute devotion. These are my favorite things to do. I don’t think I’ll ever retire per se. There may come a day that I may not be quite as active in a full time ministry in a church that is busy. But I don’t ever see a day that I’ll quit preaching or quit being active in whatever church I’m a part of. I just don’t see it. I enjoy it. It’s what I do. It’s what I am. I’m glad I’m still able to get up and preach after all these years and do all the other things that I do every day. I’ve enjoyed it. I would change very few things. It’s been a good fifty years," said Robertson