Some people are destined to do what they love.
Because he grew up the son of a Baptist preacher, it came as no surprise that Leland “L.E.” Godwin Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps. At 16 years old, the revelation came to him during a revival service in the spring of 1955, and ever since, he has been true to that calling.
Earlier this summer, Godwin stepped down after 58 years in the pulpit.
The Johnston County native began his preaching career at Pinkney Missionary Baptist Church in Fremont. During the day, he worked in home construction; on Sundays, he spread the gospel.
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Godwin spent five years at Pinkney. Later, he would become pastor of Burnell Baptist near Four Oaks and Bethesda Baptist near Clayton. Along the way, he would marry and have a son.
In July 1981, Godwin and his wife, Judy, began meeting with a group of people interested in starting a new church in Clayton. They purchased and remodeled the old Tucker Furniture building on Main Street, and thus Way of Life Baptist Church was born.
“We felt that Clayton had a lot of potential for growth and was a good place to raise families and build a ministry,” said Godwin, now 75. “I was blessed to be raised by godly parents who lovingly and faithfully served the Lord.”
Two years after launching Way of Life, Godwin and members of the new congregation built a freestanding church on Harmony Court just off of Old U.S. 70 near Clemmons Educational State Forest.
“Pastor L.E. sat on the ridge of the roof and set all the trusses,” recalled parishioner Charles Lyttle. “He and the several of the men of the church helped drive all the nails and erect the walls.”
A little over a year ago, L.E. and Judy decided the timing was right to retire. He was suffering from severe hearing loss and she was dealing with osteoarthritis.
“When you give birth to something, you fight harder, but we really felt like it was time for us to step down,” Judy said. “His preaching hasn’t changed, but his hearing was the hindrance.”
Last summer, they introduced Scott Tucker to the congregation as an associate pastor and worked with him for a year to ensure a smooth transition.
“The pastor and Mrs. Judy are very kindhearted, loving people that set the standard in this church,” Tucker said. “His hearing loss has never stopped him, and you’d never know it in his preaching.”
On July 28, Godwin turned the reins over to Tucker during the church’s annual homecoming celebration. It was a significant date for the couple, exactly 32 years to the day Way of Life was established. The church honored the couple with a video tribute that included closed-captioning so L.E. could properly enjoy it.
“That meant an awful lot to us,” Judy said. “Everyone has adjusted to his situation and understands it. Now, it’s my job to be his ears for him.”
Retirement will not slow the couple down. They have stayed on as members of the church, and L.E. continues to lead a Wednesday evening prayer group. He spends his days working on improvement projects around the house; he’s also an avid reader.
“The Clayton area has been considered home for my wife and me since we were kids, and we are glad to still be a part of a friendly, growing town,” L.E. said.
“We are enjoying are retirement,” Judy added. “We get to sleep late and piddle around.”