RAGLAND – Rev. Doug Ford walked around to the passenger side of his car. He opened the door, and said, “Come on mama, we’re going in.”
And with that, Ford stood there and waited for Mildred — his bride of 67 years — to get out, and then held the door open for her to walk in Hardin’s Chapel Bible Church. It is something the couple has done for the past 54 years.
“She is the perfect pastor’s wife,” said Ford.
It is almost unheard of that a preacher stays at one church for over half a century, but Ford has, and he credits it to God, and surrounding himself with a lot of good people.
But Ford is stepping down as pastor in order to take better care of his wife. Both are getting older. He is 86 years old and as soon as the church can find a new pastor, Ford will resign.
It is something Ford and the church family will have to get accustomed to.
It was May 16, 1945. Mildred was a senior at Ragland High School. Ford had asked her parents if he could marry her.
“Her mother told me I could not marry her until she graduated high school,” he said. “So, we stopped at the parsonage at the Baptist Church in Ragland, Rev. John Maples married us, and then I took her on to her graduation that night. It cost us $5 to get married.”
Ford quit school in the eighth grade. He got saved when he was 18, and started preaching a couple of years later.
It was after he and Mildred got married and had their first child, that he felt the Lord telling him to better himself with an education.
“I went back to high school here in Ragland, and started back in the eighth grade when I was 20 years old,” Ford said. I graduated when I was 23, and then attended Southeastern Bible College in Birmingham for four years.”
Life as a pastor
Ford worked at National Cement Company in Ragland for 40 years, and was pastor at Hardin’s during the same time. When he first became pastor at Hardin’s, the salary for the pastor was $500 a year.
“I kept that salary for a very, very long time,” he said. “When I first started, we had a small congregation. We had about 15 to 20 people coming when I first started.”
Through the years, Ford said God blessed in many ways.
In 1984, the growth was so, that they built another building. Sixteen years later, the current sanctuary was built, and today, Hardin’s Chapel averages 250 on a Sunday morning.
A new car every three years
While he may not receive the salary most pastors get today, his church family supplies him with a new vehicle about every three years.
The reason why is that Ford makes it a point to go and visit hospitals every day.
“We have put about 250,000 miles on every vehicle we’ve had,” Ford said. “It is a calling to go to the hospitals. I’ll visit people who are not even members of my congregation, and people I don’t even know.”
Ford is also known for preaching many funerals during his ministry.
“My wife tried to keep up with them through the years, and she said it is probably over 2,000 funerals I’ve conducted,” Ford said. “I generally do between 35 to 50 funerals per year. One a week is pretty regular.”
Ford said one of the things he started that has made an impact is the Dial-A-Devotion that was implemented in 1956.
“It still continues today,” he said. “I change the message on it every morning. I put community announcements on there, birthdays, those who are sick, and the funeral announcements. We have had as many as 70 calls per day. Through the years, we have probably had one million calls.”
Hardin’s Chapel has had some unique services outside the traditional Sunday morning worship service.
During the summer months, they had outside services on Sunday evenings where people could come and just sit in their cars and worship.
“The past couple of years, we haven’t because of the extreme heat,” Ford said. “We had good attendance.”
An Easter Sunrise drive-in service has been held for the past several years, and it is one of the largest in the area.
On Veteran’s Day, the church goes all out to honor those who paid the ultimate price.
“We bring in the families of all the veterans.” Ford said. “It is a wonderful service. When we first started, we had a lot of WWI veterans.”
The church also has a jail ministry and a prayer group that meets faithfully every Monday night.
Through the years
Ford said the Lord has blessed him with wonderful health through the years.
“I was able to work at the cement plant for a number of years,” he said. “I was able to go in real early in the morning, and get off around noon. That way, I was able to go and visit the hospitals.”
Ford was asked how was he able to stay at one church for so long?
“I told them just find some good people, and stay with them,” he said. “They are some wonderful people. The church is just very giving. They enjoy meeting needs of those people who are hurting.
“We built all of these buildings, the parsonage, and the gym, and have never been in debt a nickel. Generally, the last nail and the last nickel went together.”
Ford said once the church finds a new pastor, he and his wife are going to find a comfortable pew there at Hardin’s Chapel, and enjoy the services.
Doug and Mildred have six children, 15 grandchildren, 15 great grandchildren, and expected three more great grandchildren in the next few months.
“My wife is the one who held everything together,” Ford said. “We had the opportunity to go to Russia in the 1990s, and we distributed 150,000 Bibles. If God is in things, things will turn out right.”