Thursday, March 11, 2010
By BARRY BURLESON
Preachers often move a lot, but not Leon Burton.
He has served almost 45 years as minister of Emory Independent Methodist Church in the Watson community of Marshall County. He started his work there on the second Sunday in June 1965.
“This is the most loving congregation I’ve ever been associated with,” Burton said. “We’re one big family. That’s not to say we don’t have our ups and downs, but if we have problems, we work them out.
“Some of the young people when I came here, I married their children and now I’m marrying their children. I baptized children in my early years here, then baptized their children and now I’m baptizing their children.
“The sad part is I’ve buried some, too, and it’s like burying your own family member.”
Burton, 66, was born and raised in Philadelphia, graduated from Neshoba County High School and then moved to DeSoto County. He briefly left for Winona to work as a welder in a manufacturing facility before coming back to north Mississippi to attend Northwest.
In 1964, just two years out of high school, he accepted the call to the ministry – working with seven churches in the Oxford parish.
“I was preaching five times one Sunday and four the next,” he said.
After one year in that position, he moved to Cockrum in DeSoto County and started work with Cockrum, Fountain Head and Emory congregations.
Four years later, in 1969, “We went independent here at Emory and I’ve been here since.”
Burton was raised in the Methodist Church. His brother, Charles, was a minister “and had a big influence on my life,” Burton said.
“I was going to be a veterinarian,” he said. “But the Lord told me I was not going to be a veterinarian – that I was going to preach His word. So, that’s what I ended up doing. There have been some struggles, but I’ve not regretted it.”
Some of the real struggles, he said, came when Emory Methodist decided to go independent.
“I worked public jobs and preached, until we were big enough to make it on our own,” Burton said.
At first, 15 was “good attendance,” he said. “And that was two or three families. If one of those families was absent, we had four or five people here.”
Today, Emory Independent Methodist Church has more than 300 active members and a total membership of around 600.
“The Lord has blessed us tremendously,” he said.
Initially there was a small building that seated 65 to 70, if packed. The new sanctuary, started in 1992 and finished in 1993, seats 350 to 400. In 1997, a family life center was added. Most of the work on the additions was done by church members.
Burton said the church family includes a good mixture of children, young adults and elderly.
“I see a bright future for the church here,” he said.
The church responds in time of need. Recently, a fund-raiser was held for St. Jude Children’s Hospital and more than $5,000 was raised.
He and his wife Betty married on October 20, 1965. They have two children and three grandchildren.
Burton has no plans to retire.
“Like everybody else my age, I’ve thought about it,” he said, “but I’m not ready for it. I don’t ever see myself totally retiring, and I don’t want to go anywhere else (other than Emory). I would love to do some traveling.”
His hobbies include hunting and fishing and a relatively new pastime, riding his 1800 Gold Wing Trike.
“I do most of my visiting on it, when weather permits,” Burton said. “I enjoy it.”
His wife travels with him on the Trike sometimes, even going as far as Gatlinburg, Tenn.
“I’ve put 17,000 miles on it in a little over a year,” he said.
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