‘Thank you for a life that I’d call happy’: Hines retires from Hartselle church of Christ after 42 years
When Phillip Hines preached his final sermon as the full-time minister at the Hartselle church of Christ, it was the end of an era for the 69-year-old husband, father and grandfather. Hines retired at the end of 2022, delivering a message entitled ‘Thank you for a life that I’d call happy’ on Christmas Day – wrapping up a career behind the pulpit that spanned more than four decades.
At the time Hines and his wife Julia relocated to Hartselle, having never before heard of the City of Southern Hospitality, he said he believed they would work with the church for a few years and move on, much like the ministers before him had done.
He was brought to Hartselle by three church elders, Dr. James S. Martin, Grady Nicholson and Earl Warren who visited him where he preached in Leighton, Ala. in the summer of 1980. The elders, Hines said, were looking for a young, enthusiastic preacher who would put down roots and stay a while.
Hines was hired shortly thereafter and preached for the first time as the full-time minister on Sept. 2, 1980.
At that time, Hines said the church at Hartselle was ready to settle down, having grown tired of going from preacher to preacher every few years. He had also grown weary of moving – saying at 27 years old, while he didn’t know it yet, was ready to grow roots of his own.
More than four decades later, Hines said he never would have believed how blessed his life would become in Hartselle.
“If you would have told me then about what we would do together as a church and the life I would build, I would have said, ‘Man you’re crazy. I wouldn’t have believed it for a second,” he said. “I’ve been so blessed.”
Something Hines said he tried to do in his decades in Hartselle is get involved in the community on a personal level. He volunteered and held board positions with several organizations, including the former Athletic Booster Club and Hartselle Clean City. The church saturated the community with TV commercials, held campaigns at the Hartselle Civic Center that gathered thousands. In the 80s and 90s, Hines had daily radio spots entitled ‘Just a minute.’
“We wanted people to know where we were and who we were,” Hines said. “People still today will say ‘I remember you; I really enjoyed those lessons on the radio.’”
Until the COVID-19 pandemic prohibited his entrance, Hines also participated in a prison ministry at Limestone Prison where he earned the nickname Brother Fireball due to his preaching style. “Those guys really pull it out of you there,” he said, adding he often jokes with people he meets who ask him where he learned to preach.
“I’ll say, ‘I learned in prison,’” Hines said with a laugh. “Their reactions are fun and then of course I’ll explain.”
To commemorate his retirement, the Hartselle City Council and Mayor Randy Garrison honored Hines with a proclamation at the council meeting Jan. 24. Hines said in all his years of ministry, that recognition was the one that meant the most to him.
Darrell Sims has served as an elder at the congregation since 2008. Sims said Hines is a “rare breed.”
“He’s a very good people-person and you don’t find someone who is a good preacher and good with people very often,” he said. “I think one thing that has made Phillip so successful here is that he spends a lot of time and care with the members.
“If someone is sick and in the hospital, he’s there,” Sims added. “If there’s a child that’s got some kind of problem or there’s a death in the family, he’s there.”
Through the years when not busy at home, Hines has spent time in the mission field of Brazil and Romania, as well as many years leading Lads to Leaders conventions in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Hines’ wife Julia is a retired Hartselle educator. She taught at Crestline Elementary School for 28 years, teaching both third and fourth grade students.
In his final sermon, Hines praised Julia, calling her the perfect example of a preacher’s wife.
Reflecting on the 42 years he has spent building a life in Hartselle, Hines said he has been happy to call the community and the church his home and family.
“As I look back on my life, I have never regretted not going to a bigger place or taking more money,” he said. “I have been happy, contented and peaceful in Hartselle all these years – and now I’m at peace with my decision to retire.
“There’s no utopia out there,” he said. “A lot of times preachers will move because they have an offer for more money or they’re upset about something … you’re better off staying where you are, growing yourself spiritually and growing the church spiritually.
If you do that, when you feel like your ministry is over, you can look back and see exactly what you’ve done and see God’s hand in it,” he added.
Hines said he named his final sermon ‘Thank you for a life that I’d call happy’ after a song by the same name by Kris Kristofferson.
“That song pretty much sums up my life – and I didn’t want it to be a sad sermon,” he said.
Giving church members a positive, uplifting sermon, Hines said he asked the question, ‘What’s so sad about being able to stay at a church for 42 years? What’s so sad about raising a family in a community and my children going to one school system from kindergarten to graduation?
Looking forward to the future, Hines offered a dose of comedic relief.
“I’m going to be able to sit in my study all day long in my pajamas. What’s so sad about that?” he asked church members. “I’m going to get to play golf 3-4 times a week if my body will let me. What’s so sad about that?” I get to fly all over the country with a hot babe. What’s so sad about that?”
For Hines, his ministry is something he will never be able to walk away from completely. He plans to preach occasionally and hold Gospel meetings for area congregations when he and Julia aren’t traveling the country.
The couple have two children, Chris and Stephanie (Spurlin), a daughter-in-law Christen Hines and son-in-law Paul Spurlin. They are grandparents to Marlee Hines, Laney Spurlin and Tyler Spurlin.