Irby leaving West End

Published 10:23 pm Friday, May 20, 2011

The Rev. T. Floyd “Skip” Irby has been the pastor of West End Baptist Church for nearly 25 years. He will leave the church to serve with an interim pastor ministry, which helps churches that are in between leaders.

After nearly 25 years as the pastor of West End Baptist Church, the Rev. T. Floyd “Skip” Irby is leaving the church.

He’s not retiring from the ministry, though — he’ll be serving with an organization that provides interim pastors for churches in between leaders.

“I thought I would try to see what it’s like to be somewhere for just two years,” Irby joked. He is the longest-serving pastor at West End by nearly five years, and his tenure of 12 years at his prior church was the longest there, as well.

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Irby acknowledged it’s not easy leaving the church he has called home for a quarter-century and more than half of his 40-year career as a church leader.

Irby was raised in church and began to feel the calling to become a pastor when he was a teenager, he said.

“I had a sense in high school and on into college of being pulled toward ministry, but I wasn’t completely convinced of that,” he said Friday.

Some pastors encouraged him to try seminary after his graduation from the University of Virginia. Irby soon realized that he enjoyed working with local churches as a student assistant, and “that confirmed that’s where I could use the gifts God had given me,” he said.

After his graduation and ordination, Irby spent a few years as assistant pastor at First Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga. In 1974, moved to Nomini Baptist Church in Westmoreland County.

“That was a great time to raise kids,” he said. “All of our children were born when we were there.”

In 1986, the opportunity to move to Suffolk came. The community at the time reminded him of Savannah, and the house he and his wife chose had a pecan tree in the back, just like the parsonage in Westmoreland had. Irby recalled thinking, “I think this is where we’re supposed to be.”

In the ensuing years, Irby and his family have become part of the community as well as the church. His wife is the school nurse at Booker T. Washington Elementary School. All five of their children — who were in kindergarten through seventh grade when they arrived here — graduated from Lakeland High School.

Irby shepherded the church through a lot of changes, too. The church started small prayer groups, affirmed the role of women in the ministry by approving women as deacons, started a mid-week fellowship and began annual summer mission trips for the youth.

Irby also worked with the Rev. Carlton Upton at Tabernacle Christian Church to establish a series of interdenominational, interracial community Lenten services, held every Wednesday during the season between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The services have been held every year since 2004 and have become increasingly popular. More than a dozen churches now participate every year.

Irby also has done a variety of work in the community as a member of the Suffolk Rotary Club and on the board of directors of the Genieve Shelter, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

Irby said he chose the Genieve Shelter specifically because it had a lot of parallelisms with ministry, particularly the behind-the-scenes aspect of service.

“It was a way to help an organization that had made a difference in people’s lives,” Irby said.

But after 25 years at West End, it’s time to move on, Irby said. He’ll deliver his last sermon on June 26. He will try to remain based in Suffolk while he serves with the interim pastor ministry.

“Suffolk has been good to us, for us and with us,” he said. “It’s been a good time.”