If you had asked Pastor C.O. Grinstead, a native of Gary, Indiana, what he thought of Alabama about 65 years ago, he would have told you Alabamians were “hick all the way.”
“Who would ever want to live in Alabama?” Grinstead recalled thinking.
He changed his mind some time ago. This weekend marks 50 years on staff at Oxford’s Trinity Baptist Church for Grinstead, who came to the church as a 29-year-old. Grinstead said he wishes he had been in Alabama his entire life.
“If I could have been born here, I wish I would have been,” Grinstead said. “Knowing the kindness and culture of the people here after spending these 50 years here in Alabama, these are some wonderful folks.”
Grinstead began working at the church in 1969, serving as the assistant pastor. He recalls being worried about being accepted in Oxford, a town with a population of about 4,000 at the time, but the pastor told him to simply “be with the people.”
After three years of visiting community members in the hospital and “doing more than just praying with them,” Grinstead felt connected to the community.
“Folks started saying that I was all right, not too bad for a Yankee,” Grinstead laughed.
“People knew that I really cared to help them, and when they had needs, I would go to them.”
One year after his arrival, Grinstead started Trinity Christian Academy, a private school which taught children up to fourth grade at the time. Now the school hosts grades K through 12, complete with athletics and performing arts.
“It really has been a fun journey,” Grinstead said. “I love the people here and what God has done in my journey. I look back at all of this and think ‘wow.’”
In 1980, Grinstead was named the senior pastor at Trinity and he holds the position to this day. While he does get paid to be a pastor, he said paychecks have “absolutely nothing” to do with his passion for serving the community.
“It’s not about me. This has nothing to do with me,” Grinstead said. “Just being there to help people is where my joy comes from. It’s nice to have something to live off of, but I just like helping people.”
In addition to being the senior pastor, Grinstead serves as the chaplain for Oxford’s Police Department and the chaplain for Calhoun County’s Republican Party. He also contributes content to the church’s radio stations, WTBJ and WTBB, and he ministers to inmates at the Calhoun County Jail a couple of times a month. To him, ministering the community is nothing but a blessing.
“Being able to reach out to all kinds of people… wow. It’s amazing,” he said.
Grinstead said the past 50 years in Alabama have been nothing short of “awesome.”
“I’m thankful for these years,” Grinstead said. “I’m thankful for the people that help me out.”
The feeling is mutual for Grinstead’s associate pastors. Rev. Jerry Johnston, who has worked with Grinstead for 30 years, said this is a great milestone because the average stay of a pastor is about three and a half years.
“You run out of bags of tricks after about four years, so this is real stickability,” Johnston laughed. “It’s an admirable trait.”
Rev. Jeff Smith, a 21-year veteran of Trinity and the church’s youth pastor, agreed that Grinstead’s 50-year tenure is admirable. His favorite part about Grinstead is the “consistency in his vision.”
“It’s something in today’s time that you don’t see a lot of,” he said. “He’s a very merciful person. He is somebody to be an example to young pastors.”