Niles pastor celebrates 40th pastoral anniversary

Published 6:30 am Saturday, May 4, 2024

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NILES — A local church is celebrating 40 years with its pastor this weekend.

First Church of God, 33180 US-12, Niles, and Pastor Robert Jackson are celebrating their 40th Pastoral anniversary Sunday, May 5.

Jackson said he’s been involved in the church in one way or another for as long as he can remember. His father, Gordon Jackson was a longtime pastor of the church. Even so, becoming one of the longest-serving pastors currently in southwest Michigan was not something he foresaw for himself.

“I had been a part of the church for years but never really had a desire to pastor,” he said. “Being raised as a pastor’s son, you have a different perspective of a regular parishioner sometimes. Pastors are put under a microscope and are expected to live above a standard and so that can create a lot of issues. I was very blessed to have parents that were very loving and giving And Godly, which made a huge difference.

“I wasn’t a good student. I didn’t really think that pastoral ministry would ever be in my wheelhouse, so it took several years for that transition to take place.”

After his father’s passing in 1972, First Church of God relocated from its previous location on 14th Street and Wayne Street to its current location on US-12 in 1973. In June of 1984, Jackson became the pastor and has overseen the church ever since.

“It’s really been a blessing,” Jackson said. “The church has been a great fit for us. Lots of times, a pastor comes from outside the community and so it takes time for them to get to know him. I grew up in the church, so everybody in the church knew me, knew who I was, knew my likes and dislikes and they accepted that and supported that. That really gave me a great opportunity to start and fail and start and fail because they accepted who I was and I was really grateful for that.”

In addition, Jackson spent 39 years working at Simplicity Pattern Company, 23 of which overlapped with his time as pastor.

“I was what they called bi-vocational,” he said. “That was quite the juggling act.”

While much has transpired in the world over the course of his time as pastor, Jackson’s desire to serve his church community has not changed. The church has provided church and community members with a wide variety of programs and outreach over the years and has plans expanded from less than one acre in 1984 to 20 acres today, with plans to install a disc golf course on the property.

Jackson thanks his congregation and the greater Niles church community for supporting his family throughout the years.

“It’s been a really good fit here for us and for our family, which I’m eternally grateful for,” he said. “People saw in me something that I didn’t see in myself in the beginning. Having the support from the Christian Community has really helped us to maintain these 40 years.”

The pandemic is just the latest hurdle Jackson and First Church of God has overcome over the last 95 years and it will not be the last. While he does not know what his future as a pastor holds, Jackson is proud of FCOG and its history and looks forward to the future of the church.

“We have really just started to come out of what I would call a ‘spiritual fog,’” he said. “Everybody has been affected by COVID and we have just started to come out of the fog where people are hugging again and greeting one another with a hug or handshake. We’ve probably had more visitors this year than the past seven or eight years. God adds to the church, God uses people and we’re supposed to let our light shine. We plant seeds and somebody waters them, but God ultimately adds to the church. … That’s been exciting; it seems like there’s a kindling of the fire that is starting to burn again and that, to me, is motivating and exciting.”