Various programs will mark the end of an era at St. Luke A.M.E Church in Forsyth, including a banquet expecting about 300 people this Saturday. Rev. Charles Dumas has been preaching for 54 years and pastoring churches for 50 years, the last 29 years at St. Luke. He has guided the congregation, which now numbers about 146 members, and has a tradition of being active in the community, through good times and uncertain times. He will turn 75 on June 2 and will preach his last sermon at St. Luke A.M.E. on April 28.

“When I started I didn’t visualize an ending, but I didn’t visualize being at St. Luke that long,” said Dumas. “It came so rapidly.”

He said the members at St. Luke are like family to him. They have seen a lot and shared a lot together. He thinks back on revivals, baptisms, weddings, family reunions, expansions of the building and too many funerals.  

Dumas said funerals were one part of pastoring that he didn’t look forward to, noting that people realize they need the church when tragedy comes. At times he preached two or three funerals per month. He recalled that one of the most difficult was for a 10-year-old boy. 

“Somehow He gets us through it,” said Dumas. “Once we connect He gets us through it. The key to life is relationship with the creator. He’ll give peace in the darkest hour.”

But Dumas’ journey as a pastor is marked more by joy than sadness. His family moved from Atlanta to Lamar County after his father died in 1955. Dumas, the third of five children, graduated from Booker High School in Barnesville in 1963. He received his calling to the ministry in 1966. 

Dumas became pastor of his first church, Jordon Grove AME in Roberta, in 1970 and was ordained an itinerant elder, the highest ministerial order in the African Methodist Episcocal Church, in 1974. Dumas served Jordan Grove AME for 18 years and concurrently pastored Bethel AME in Barnesville for eight years, Grace Chapel in Yatesville for 14 years and Bethel Logtown (which later became Logtown Circuit) in Yatesville for eight years. He left that circuit in 1987 to pastor Cleveland Chapel AME Church in McDonough and served there for four years before he accepted the call to St. Luke AME.

St. Luke AME is near downtown Forsyth on St. James Street, on the edge of the Tift College campus. It was organized about 155 years ago. Dumas led the church through remodeling in the 1990’s, including the upstairs choir loft and building the pavilion out back for fellowship. The church watched as neighboring Tift College closed and went through different owners and times of uncertainty before it became Georgia Department of Corrections headquarters. Its streets were changed to one-way. 

“Change is always reluctant,” said Dumas. “But it worked out. We deal with it.”

Music has always been a tremendous part of both Dumas’ life and his ministry, and he plans to keep his life filled with music in retirement. He organized a male chorus at St. Luke and is proud of the church’s dance group. He sang with the choir at Monroe County’s FaithFest and sang with the Backlot Players Community Chorus at The Rose Theater one year. Dumas said he has sung at about every church in the community. 

He also enjoys playing the piano and has contributed that skill to his church, too. He taught himself how to play. There was a piano in his home as he was growing up, and his oldest sister had some lessons. He started by picking out the melody to “Home on the Range” with one finger. His twin brother played trumpet in the band, and his younger brother played guitar. His father was known for having a good singing voice. 

“I’d have to say gospel is my favorite music, but I like all kinds,” said Dumas. “Music is music—We just add lyrics.”

He said St. Luke now has three choirs, and they combine in various ways for special occasions. He said he loved listening to the music of the televised Billy Graham revivals as he grew up, with songs like, “How Great Thou Art” and “It is Well with My Soul.”

“I love hymns. My son says I’m a walking hymn book,” he said. “In my free time I get a hymnal and get on the keyboard.”

Dumas’ oldest son, Charles Dumas Jr., “plays pretty good sax and keyboard, too.” He played piano for his father in some of his early churches before going on to college and seminary. He has now been in the ministry himself for about 17 years and has pastored Townley Chapel AME Church in Savannah for six years.

Dumas has three sons and six grandchildren. He and his wife, Annette Fears Dumas, were married for 51 years before she passed away on Sept. 18, 2018. He recalled that Annette could sing. He said she was a little shy but had a lovely voice. He said she was the oldest of a family of eight, and the whole family could sing. 

Asked about the highlights of his over a half century in the ministry, Dumas said he has great memories of revivals and of receiving people into the church. He said a mountain retreat with the young people at Cleveland Chapel in about 1988 brings great memories of spiritual growth. He enjoyed attending the AME General Conferences that are held every four years, where new laws are written and bishops are elected. He first went as an observer and later as a delegate. He was able to serve on statewide boards and committees. He said he has many good memories of Bible studies. His best memories involve people.

“I’m a people person,” he said. “I love people.”

Besides singing and playing the piano, Dumas’ hobbies include gardening and golf. He has learned to love cooking since his wife passed. He looks forward to doing some traveling in his retirement, with a trip to Hawaii being a possibility. He is engaged and traveling is something he and his fiancee look forward to doing together. He is bound to be called back to minister at churches, but he has asked for at least a six month break. 

St. Luke AME has planned a Retirement Banquet for Dumas on Saturday, March 21 at Monroe County Conference Center. However, with all of those seeking to honor Dumas and wish him well in his retirement, tickets for the banquet are sold out.