The Rev. Tommy Ray, pastor of Poplar Head Baptist Church in Long County, is following in his father’s footsteps. His father was the pastor for more than 30 years at the same church Ray now leads.
“My father served as the pastor of Poplar Head Missionary Baptist Church for 34 years. I never dreamed I would one day become the pastor of Poplar Head. I worked with the youth group and taught Sunday school when he was the pastor,” Ray said.
A native of Glennville, Ray has served as Poplar Head’s pastor for four years and has been a pastor for 15 years. “I also served as pastor of Liberty Baptist Church for eight years,” he said.
“We are trying to reach the community for Jesus Christ. I have a love for the word of God and people.”
Since he stepped into a leadership role at the Long County church, attendance has increased and people are growing spiritually, the pastor said.
The church offers many programs, including a vacation Bible school, which was held the last week in May. The congregation’s building also has seen some recent changes.
“We added on a fellowship hall, but now it is being used as a temporary sanctuary,” Ray said. “On the first Sunday of the month, we have a fellowship unless there is a special day. After the service, we have dinner — everybody brings a covered dish. This helps build fellowship.”
In an effort to unite the congregation, Ray encourages participation in a variety of church activities.
“We have family night, classes for couples, different classes for all ages, family cookouts at the church, ladies retreats, men’s retreats and camps for the children,” he said. Every year, the church sponsors Christmas and Easter musicals.
Poplar Head is mission-oriented.
“We have two full-time missionaries, Brother Walter Goulding is in San Jose, Puerto Rico, and Brother Stacy Ervin is serving as a missionary in Woodbine, Ga.,” the pastor said. “I have been on mission trips to Ontario, Canada, and preached in Canada and Costa Rica. Two years ago, we organized Canaan Baptist Church in Heredia, Costa Rica.”
Ray credits his father, Dr. Hugh Harris, who was in the ministry for 64 years, and Pastor Paul Vance of Acworth, Ga., for being instrumental in his spiritual growth. He advises pastors to always seek the Lord in all things.
“Always look to older ministers for advice concerning different situations,” he said.
Ray also serves as president of the Trustees of the Landmark Baptist Camp, a youth camp near Macon. An avid outdoors enthusiast, the pastor enjoys all sports and loves to visit state parks.
He and his wife, Jeanette Ray, have been married for 29 years. She teaches at the church, is a music leader in the junior chapel and works at Glennville Middle School.
“My wife and I are blessed with five children, four grandchildren and one on the way. Our son, Justin Ray, serves as associate pastor of Poplar Head,” Ray said.
The pastor and Poplar Head’s congregation invite the public to join them for Sunday school at 9:45 a.m. and worship services at 11 a.m. Wednesday night classes for all ages are at 7 p.m.
“We have nursery for children ages 0-2, children’s chapel for ages 3-7 and junior chapel for ages 8-12. On Monday nights, we offer seminary-type classes through the Southeast Georgia Baptist Institute,” Ray said.