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Gospel Temple Pastor Don Hutchings retires after 35 years in Fort Smith | The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

FORT SMITH – Don Hutchings held his final service as pastor of Evangel Temple Church last Sunday after preaching more than 5,000 sermons during his 35 years in the River Valley.

Hutchings said he fulfilled a childhood dream when, at age 7, he heard God calling him to be a pastor.

“I’m just blessed to be able to do this,” he said. “I just don’t want anyone to pinch me because I’m not even sure if it’s real. I dreamed about this stuff, but I didn’t know it would be better than my dream.”

Hutchings, 67, became a pastor in 1978 and preached at Lakeview Assembly in Hot Springs for seven years before he and his wife, Carol, came to Fort Smith. He remembered that there were few people in the church and there was no children’s ministry at the time. He said he became discouraged and almost returned to Hot Springs after his first sermon before a man stopped him and said God had told him Hutchings was coming.

‘You hear some people talk and you know they are right. They listen to God,” he said. “I wasn’t happy about it because when I found out about all the struggles here, I thought, ‘I don’t want to get involved in this. I want to go back to where we had to put 120 chairs next to all the chairs every Sunday morning.’ the banks and all that.’ But we put that behind us and came here, and we’re so glad we did.”

The church on Towson Avenue grew to an audience of 986 during Hutchings’ final sermon and had notable attendees including past and present River Valley mayors, Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker, Sebastian County Sheriff Hobe Runion and former Governor Asa Hutchinson. Hutchings said he and his wife have also been asked to speak at churches of various denominations almost every Sunday for the rest of the year.

Baker said it was an honor to recognize Hutchings’ legacy.

“The impact their ministry has had on our collective physical, emotional and spiritual health cannot be understated, and will have a lasting impact,” Baker said of both Don and Carol Hutchings. “He has greatly influenced me and the approach I have taken to community policing through his counsel and example. I was happy to be part of his special day and look forward to the new ways he will find to continue his service to make.”

Hutchings said he thinks the reason so many people want to hear his sermons is because he preaches hope.

“People need hope,” he said. “And it’s more than just a political slogan or a city in Arkansas. It’s, ‘Can you save me? Can you help me?’ So we have dedicated ourselves to seeking the least, the lowest and the last. That’s kind of the DNA of our church.”

When Hutchings recalled his memories of Evangel Temple, he talked about the children in the congregation, including a five-year-old who brought 24 cents to give to Jesus because she loved him, and some girls who caught his attention after church to the congregation prays for a painful knee.

“So we prayed, and as they walked away, I heard one of them say, ‘I told you he would.’ You can’t put a price tag on that, no matter how valuable it is,” he said.

“I let kids give me notes. “Here, give this to God.” It’s kind of an honor.”

Hutchings also recalled more humorous memories, such as when a horse answered the call of nature in the church sanctuary during a holiday drama, with Hutchinson and former Fort Smith Mayor Ray Baker present.

“It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “Everyone tries to be decent and dignified, and that’s it.”

Hutchings said he plans to spend his retirement time visiting his grandchildren and fishing on his new kayak. He said he hopes the church supports the new pastor, Mike Brogen, and his wife, Karla, and that he can see them grow the church to more than 2,000 members in just a few years.

Brogen said Evangel Temple is his home church, as he attended as a teenager while attending school in Greenwood. He said he spent the last few years with his wife as a pastor and missionary throughout Asia before getting the call from Hutchings to take over as pastor.

Brogen said his goal is to grow disciples and make it easy for people to have a relationship with Jesus. He said he learned from Hutchings how one congregation can impact an entire community.

“We’ll continue to do the things that Evangel Temple is known for as far as reaching out to the community and being a place where everyone can feel welcome. That will be the goal,” he said. “We are excited about what God has in store for the future.”

photo Don Hutchings, a retired pastor of Evangel Temple Church, participates in an interview Thursday at the church’s worship center in Fort Smith. Hutchings was a pastor for 35 years. Past and present mayors, the Fort Smith police chief, the Sebastian County sheriff and former Governor Asa Hutchinson all attended his final service. Visit rivervalleydemocratgazette.com/photo for today’s photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
photo Don Hutchings, a retired pastor of Evangel Temple Church, participates in an interview Thursday at the church’s worship center in Fort Smith. Hutchings was a pastor for 35 years. Past and present mayors, the Fort Smith police chief, the Sebastian County sheriff and former Governor Asa Hutchinson all attended his final service. Visit rivervalleydemocratgazette.com/photo for today’s photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
photo Don Hutchings, a retired pastor of Evangel Temple Church, participates in an interview Thursday at the church’s worship center in Fort Smith. Hutchings was a pastor for 35 years. Past and present mayors, the Fort Smith police chief, the Sebastian County sheriff and former Governor Asa Hutchinson all attended his final service. Visit rivervalleydemocratgazette.com/photo for today’s photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
photo Don Hutchings, a retired pastor of Evangel Temple Church, participates in an interview Thursday at the church’s worship center in Fort Smith. Hutchings was a pastor for 35 years. Past and present mayors, the Fort Smith police chief, the Sebastian County sheriff and former Governor Asa Hutchinson all attended his final service. Visit rivervalleydemocratgazette.com/photo for today’s photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
photo Don Hutchings, a retired pastor of Evangel Temple Church, displays a plaque honoring his brother Dino at the church’s worship center in Fort Smith on Thursday. Hutchings was a pastor for 35 years. Past and present mayors, the Fort Smith police chief, the Sebastian County sheriff and former Governor Asa Hutchinson all attended his final service. Visit rivervalleydemocratgazette.com/photo for today’s photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
photo Don Hutchings, a retired pastor of Evangel Temple Church, speaks outside the church’s worship center in Fort Smith on Thursday. Hutchings was a pastor for 35 years. Past and present mayors, the Fort Smith police chief, the Sebastian County sheriff and former Governor Asa Hutchinson all attended his final service. Visit rivervalleydemocratgazette.com/photo for today’s photo gallery. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)