By Rubin E. Grant
When Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills holds three services on Easter Sunday, it will mark the final Resurrection Sunday for the Rev. Danny Wood as senior pastor of the 7,800-member church.
Wood, who recently celebrated his 24th anniversary as Shades Mountain’s pastor, announced earlier this year that he plans to retire Aug. 15.
“It was a strategic decision,” Wood said. “I’ve been looking at it for about three years. I didn’t want to go until I was 70 and I’m 67½ now.”
Wood acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in his decision to go ahead and retire this year. The pandemic forced churches to focus on online services, which Wood believes will lead to dramatic changes in religious practices.
“As COVID hit, I led us through that and I think what we did was effective, but things will be different going forward,” Wood said. “We’re never going to return back to 2019. There are things that happened in 2020 that are going to cause us to have to make some challenging changes.
“As I looked at it, at the most I’d be here another two years, but I decided I was not the man to lead us through the next phase. We need someone with fresh eyes to lead.”
Wood was born in Birmingham before moving to Atlanta when he was 6. He returned to the state to attend college at Auburn. After graduating, Wood returned to Birmingham to work at South Central Bell, now named AT&T. While there, he met his wife, Janice.
The couple joined Shades Mountain, and Wood taught in the singles ministry and was ordained as a deacon.
After attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he became pastor at First Baptist Church in Ruston, Louisiana, where his daughter, Lauren, was born.
Wood became Shades Mountain’s pastor in 1997 with then-retiring pastor Charles T. Carter, who had been at the church for 26 years, assuming the title of senior pastor. Wood served in a one-year transition period and then succeeded Carter when he stepped down as senior pastor in 1998.
Wood is thankful for the growth of the church with him as pastor. The church underwent four capital campaigns as the entire campus was being redone over the years.
It’s About the People
But it’s not that transformation that brings Wood satisfaction. It’s the people.
“I think my greatest joy when I look back over the years is, I see a loving church, a church that has embraced the heart of the Lord for the world in its commitment to missions, locally and abroad, with both giving and going,” Wood said.
“We’ve got unity and a healthy body that trusts the leadership, is very active and is a very generous congregation in the many things that our people do for others in Christian love.”
In 2020, Wood announced Shades Mountain had “adopted” McElwain Baptist Church, which had been struggling with declining membership.
With his background in business, Wood said the next pastor will take over a church that is on firm financial footing.
“The church is in excellent position financially,” he said. “We’ll be debt free soon. We have a great staff, and the new man can come in with a clean white board.”
The church has hired an executive search firm to assist its pastor search committee.
“I am confident their work will help lead us to the next pastor for Shades by the summer,” Wood said.
Wood doesn’t have any firm plans yet, but he’s praying for wisdom and guidance.
“I am ready for the next chapter, whatever the next chapter is,” he said. “I’ll be doing ministry. It’s just a redirection. I am excited about what (the) Lord has next for me and Janice.”
Wood is confident Shades Mountain will continue its mission. “I think the best days are ahead for Shades,” he said.
Shades Mountain’s Easter services will be held at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.