Seven actions for 70 years: Walkers share about their marriage, ministry

BENTON, Ark. – James and Mattie Walker have been married 70 years and have been in the ministry together even longer.  

In 1949, while he was a student at Ouachita Baptist University, James was called to be a part-time pastor at Union Baptist Church, near Harrison. At the same time, the 19-year-old also accepted a call to pastor at Bellefonte Baptist Church in Boone County, where he preached two Sundays a month. He eventually resigned from Union Baptist Church and took on preaching full-time at Bellefonte.  

James said George Blackmon, a Bible professor at Ouachita Baptist University, told the “preacher boys,” as he referred to them, two things they did not want to do when pastoring a church.   

The first was not to construct a building, and the second was not to date any of the girls. While at Bellefonte, James did both. 

It was at this church that James met Mattie.  

“First time I saw her, she was walking down the church aisle in a black dress with big flowers,” James said.   

“I’m glad I bought that dress,” Mattie added with a laugh.  

The two dated about two years before getting engaged and eventually wed on July 27, 1952.  

When it comes to the longevity of their marriage, James credits it to seven things.   

Family 

James’ grandfather was a Baptist preacher as well as a schoolteacher and farmer. He also served in the House of Representatives.  

James said he was watching his grandfather split wood one day when his grandfather said, “Don’t just stand there, do something.”  

And James has been doing something ever since, Mattie said.  

Born in 1930 and 1931, James and Mattie grew up during the depression. He said both their parents were hard workers and taught James and Mattie to be self-sufficient.  

Additionally, their children have been incredibly supportive of them throughout the years, and they are proud of their grandchildren. 

Opened doors  

James was called to preach when he was only 19 at Union Baptist Church and Bellefonte Baptist Church. His grandfather was pastor at both of those churches at one time as well.  

James went on to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and to pastor at two churches in southern Oklahoma. After graduation from seminary, James and Mattie served as church planters in Washington and then traveled south to pastor churches in Wimberly, Texas, and Houston, Texas, before returning to Arkansas to pastor at First Baptist Church in Warren, where he served eight years.  

During that time, Mattie worked as a substitute teacher, supplementing their income with her earnings. 

James went on to work for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, where he was director of Stewardship and aided with Cooperative Program promotion before working with Guidestone for 15 years.  

Christian education  

James graduated from Bergman High School and Mattie graduated from Bellefonte High School.  

“I mention these schools because we had teachers who really helped shape and mold our lives. … They taught us the basic principles of life. … And we’re grateful for those experiences in those two high schools,” he said.  “I remember all of my teachers as being practicing Christians.”  

At seminary, James received a Bachelor of Divinity and Mattie earned her associate degree in religious education.  

Since then, the couple has been updating their knowledge through various seminars and other teachings.  

Christian stewardship  

“The principle that we live by was that we always tried to keep our expenses less than our income. … And any extra money that we received we put it in a savings account and that gave us a little bit of a sense of security,” James said.  

James noted a wedding he officiated in the 1970s. A couple in their 30s came to him for marriage. After a brief ceremony, the couple asked how much James wanted for the wedding.  

“The ministerial response is you don’t owe me anything. (The man) pulled out his pocketbook and gave me a dollar and then turned to his wife and said, ‘Now, you give him a dollar,’” James said with a laugh.  

James and Mattie added $2 to their savings that day. 

Conflicts of life 

James said he and Mattie have had very few fights within the church over the years. The biggest conflict, however, happened while he was pastoring in Oklahoma. 

There was a disturbance in the church over a local liquor election. The members in favor of the alcohol sale tried to vote James out of the church but did not garner enough support.  

James continued sharing the Gospel there and beyond.  

Despite conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention, James said he and Mattie have deliberately made the decision to stay with the organization. 

“We’ve had invitations to go with the other groups, but we decided that we wanted to stay inside the convention as much as we can because I would rather stay inside and fight rather than stand on the outside and throw stones at others,” he said. “That has been our identity through 73 years of ministry in churches and convention. … I think that people always want you to identify with them, but I am going to stick with Southern Baptist, and I think (Mattie) will stick with me on that.”  

WALKER2
James and Mattie Walker were married in July 1952.

Forgiveness 

Couples are going to have disputes. 

“One of the factors in our longevity together is the fact that we can forgive each other,” James said.  

For instance, James said Mattie likes to shop for many things and he likes the simple lifestyle.  

“We can forgive and accept each other. I can accept her shopping for many things, and she can forgive me for having that simple lifestyle without demanding that she give up shopping or I give up my conviction on the simple lifestyle,” he said.  

Faith and God’s grace 

James and Mattie have carried their faith and God’s grace with them through all the years.  

James referenced Psalm 90:10, “Our lives lastseventy years or, if we are strong, eighty years. Even the best of them are struggle and sorrow; indeed, they pass quickly and we fly away.” (HCSB) 

“Three score and 10 years. Well, we’ve had additional years,” he said.  “We’ve had lessons from all those years.”  

James and Mattie are members at First Baptist Church in Benton. 

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7 Responses

  1. James and Mattie have encouraged me so many times. Thank you for standing with me at a difficult timer in my life. Thank you, Mattie, for being a friend to my sweet wife, Martha. Before her aneurysm Martha would come from work singing the praising of Mattie.

    Arkansas Baptists have been blessed by their lives and ministry.

  2. James and Mattie Walker are the finest parents, teachers, and examples of Godly living anyone could hope to know. We are blessed to be on the receiving end of their love and prayers. Keep shopping, Mattie!

  3. As the daughter-in-law for 37 years, I have been blessed by their example of a marriage built of Biblical principles. They have been my role models and mentors in so many ways beyond just marriage. Mattie on how to demonstrate what love and grace looks like in a diverse world full of different beliefs and life choices, and James on what unconditional love really means and how important family is. I pray that their influence on Karl and myself has been passed onto our children, and, one day, our grandchildren.

  4. CONGRATULATIONS on the wonderful article that magnifies your 70 years of marriage and your ministry. The honor the article bestows on you and Mattie is well deserved.
    Your lives and ministry has been a blessing to us and to everyone in the Pairs and Spares Class at Immanuel Baptist Church. We are so glad we were able to be blessed under your teaching and friendship.

  5. I remember meeting the Walker family when my family moved to Warren. Bro. James was about to leave his pastorate at FBC as my dad started his ministry as pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church. Then a few years later, I was between Karl and Jim at Ouachita!! I have seen the Walkers over the years and love this article about their lives as a family and in ministry.

    1. Janet,
      Our friendship with your parents continued through the years with gratitude for their years
      Of ministry. We also appreciate you and your husband’s dedication to ministry .
      Thanks for your kind words.
      James A and Mattie Walker

  6. I had the privilege of working with James in the Arkansas Baptist State Convention during my first furlough from International Mission Board service. That year was a tremendous blessing for me, since I had such a supportive supervisor and a great Christian friend during that year. James indeed has a servant’s heart, and his calm Christian attitude and dedication were a great inspiration to me. I did not work directly with Mattie, but I experienced her sweet spirit various times through the years when I would be back in Arkansas during furlough times and even after Mary and I retired from the IMB. James, may God bless both you and Mattie as you continue to make your lives count for our Master and Lord.

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