On a Sunday afternoon in January, church members packed the pews at Friendship Baptist in Johnson City and stood to sing the old hymn, “God Will Take Care of You.”
They came to honor their retiring preacher, a man for whom the hymn’s title has been a life motto.
“God is in charge, and he loves us and cares for us,” said Reverend C.H. Charlton who, after 42 years, is moving on to the next chapter in life.
“When you see that and see how he works in your life, it’s miraculous,” said the man everyone calls “The Rev.”
“He taught us the meaning of love…especially love for God,” said Daniel Parks, a leader at Friendship who came to honoring his retiring friend.
But the road to the pulpit had an unlikely start.
As a teenager, C.H. Charlton was a teenage rock-n-roller, an Elvis impersonator who dreamed of making it big.
But deep down, this showman knew something wasn’t right.
“I asked God – what do you want me to do?”
He went on to marry his teenage sweetheart, but the peace still wasn’t there.
“I thought – I have a wife and I’m going to ask God to bless the marriage just to run out Friday night and sing rock,” he said. “So I thought – I’ll sing in the choir.”
And then one day while singing in the choir, Charlton said he heard a voice. An actual voice. A clear as a bell message that he was supposed to preach the Gospel.
“And that was the last thing I wanted to do,” he said.
Charlton said he fought it. Ran from it. Ended up in the hospital with ulcers over it.
And then the voice again.
“He said, ‘Ok – you either commit your life to the Lord and preach, or you breathe no more.’ He said, ‘I’m serious. I created you for that and you’re going to do it.’ My answer cause I was not stupid was ‘Yes sir! And the rest was history.”
As Rev. and Mrs. Charlton embraced their future in ministry and public service, the nation was coming to terms with its shameful past.
“But Dr. Martin Luther King kept saying, ‘Love. Love your fellow man. The Lord is on your side.'”
That strategy of service led the Charlton’s brought to Friendship Baptist Church in March 1977.
And right away, they knew they were home.
“They were caring people,” Rev. Charlton said. “People in Johnson City were caring people. We never had a problem.”
While Janet Charlton cared for her busy husband and son, she got her GED and started teaching young children.
Reverend Charlton went to ETSU, went on to get his doctorate in education, and taught at Northeast State Community College. And soon, he got into politics, winning election to the Johnson City Board of Commissioners from 2003-2005.
From an impersonator of the King…to a child of the King. And as he retires from the pulpit, C.H. Charlton proves what it means to be a Tri-Cities Original. He may not have to preach every Sunday, but he’s living out a sermon for us all.
“I believe that the key thing is to have a commitment to God,” he said. “Know that God can. When you do that, you’ll see a different way.”