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This wasn’t the first time Pastor Tony Andrade surprised his wife with wedding vows.
Tony, the senior minister at the Family Worship Center, celebrated his 20th year of ministry at the church on Sept. 29, but also wanted to commemorate another anniversary.
Much to the surprise of his wife, Carla, and the rest of the congregation, the Pastor Appreciation Sunday service including a vow renewal ceremony.
Carla wore blue. Tony brought a bouquet of roses, and said he read something he’d written for his wife. There were tears, Tony said.
“Because the pastor coming in to preach for me married us 25 years ago, we wanted them to be able to witness the renewal of our vows,” Tony said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “Just to be an inspiration for other couples in the church.”
Twenty-five years ago, Tony was 28, single and about to motivate a group of single people at a singles retreat.
So the lonely youth minister prayed. Tony said God told him that his wife was right in front of him in Carla Kirkus, the 25-year-old teacher and secretary for a statewide Pentecostal youth ministry in Georgia who had worked with Tony for the last three years.
Tony and Carla had never dated. Tony and Carla didn’t even live in the same town; Tony lived in Atlanta, while Carla drove three hours to attend ministry events in the city.
God led his heart to believe Carla was the wife he had asked God for, Tony said.
So a few months later, Tony proposed to Carla without a ring.
If she decided to say no to his proposal, Tony said he told Carla, then he hoped they could remain friends.
They went on their official first date to the Steak & Ale steakhouse after Carla said yes. He gave his future wife an engagement ring, hidden under the seat, after dinner.
About six weeks later, they married on Sept. 24, 1988.
“Of course, she had already known for three years that the answer was yes,” Tony said. According to Tony, Carla chose the same weekend of his unexpected marriage proposal to issue an unspoken ultimatum to herself and God: if Tony didn’t show interest, she was going to move on.
Instead Carla found herself moving on with Tony as he served as an associate pastor in Atlanta, then to a small church on the Main Street of Lawrenceburg with their 3-year-old son Ryan (now 23) in the summer of 1993.
Tony said he didn’t expect to leave Georgia, leave his home and family behind and move to Lawrenceburg. He didn’t expect to have lived in Lawrenceburg with his wife, son and 12-year-old daughter Mackenzie for the past 20 years.
But that’s the life Tony said he’s been called to as a minister. To refocus himself with solitary prayer walks through the city at 5:30 a.m., to encourage churches in the community, as Tony said, “to unite and be one voice and to be one body.”
“It’s actually day to day in the sense of we all know as ministers we are not our own, but if God should open up a door or just change the direction of the course of our ministry, we would go wherever God would want us to go,” he said.
From arriving in Lawrenceburg to oversee his first church as lead pastor in 1993 to moving to the church’s new location on North Main Street right before the new McDonald’s in 1997, Tony regards the last 20 years as time he’s spent hopefully trying to make a difference wherever he is sent, to “touch someone’s life.”
“No. 1, just my love for God. My deep, heartfelt love for God … that has just been so overwhelming for me, that would be the first and foremost thing,” he said. “That doesn’t ever diminish or go away.”
For No. 2, Tony referred to this verse from the New Testament book of Jude (he likes The Message translation): “Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. The sin itself stinks to high heaven.”
The verse from Jude has been the theme of his ministry, Tony said, and his life in Lawrenceburg with his church, his children and his wife, who stood by Tony’s side as they celebrated two anniversaries.