by James Coulter
For more than two decades, Roy L. Wilkinson has served his Lake Wales community by reaching out and saving lives as a firefighter. Now, having turned his life over to the Lord, he will be serving his new community in Lakeland by reaching out and touching lives as a pastor.
A fourth-generation Lake Wales resident, Wilkinson always wanted to serve in fire and rescue. His father worked as a volunteer firefighter, so Wilkinson often spent his time at the fire department playing and dreaming of becoming a firefighter.
In 2000, he started his career at the Lake Wales fire department. In 2014, he was promoted to lieutenant, and later, as deputy fire chief. He had hopes of becoming fire chief, but after much thought and prayers, he decided to rededicate his life to a much higher calling.
As of Sept. 30, Wilkinson has retired from the fire department. He will now be serving as a pastor at Highlands Church of God in Lakeland. He served others in his old career, and he expects to continue doing the same with his new one.
“I am really looking forward to what God is going to do through me in the church,” he said. “There is a great group of people here who are excited about moving forward with the church body, and God has great plans for the congregation for the church and this community.”
Fire Chief Joe Jenkins worked with Roy ever since he first joined the station. Jenkins considers Wilkinson to be a high-quality employee who always did his job well. He will miss the conversations they had both on and off the job, and he wished him well in his new endeavors.
“He was a real asset to the department,” Jenkins said. “I wish him well and I am sure he will do a great job.”
Wilkinson has worked at Lake Wales Fire Department for 22 years. He was the first staff member to attend paramedic school in 2005. His department won a Humane Society Award for helping save animals trapped in a burning building. Other notable accomplishments include helping start a fire truck committee in 2004, being named firefighter of the year in 2006, and being promoted to fire chief in 2014.
In 2011, he started contemplating a different life path by working towards his calling in the Church of God. There he served in a program called Calling Ministries Studies, where he started to further explore his calling to the ministry. In 2012, he went through the ordination process and became an ordained minister.
Following his ordination, he served as a part-time youth pastor. In 2017, he became an associate pastor of Ridge Community Church in Dundee, where he had served since 2013. During that time, he would perform double duty as both a firefighter and a minister. He initially had plans to retire a few years later and become a minister full-time; however, after much prayer, he discovered God had other plans.
“I have been living a lifestyle where I worked in the fire department and served the citizens of Lake Wales and now we will work at the church and serve the community there, and that has been our story for a long time,” he said.
Three months ago, Wilkinson received a phone call from a longtime mentor, to whom he had not spoken to in ten years. The mentor had been praying, and he felt the call to ask Wilkinson to consider the opportunity of pastoring his church. Wilkinson and his wife prayed about the decision, and they decided to answer the call.
“We told God to sacrifice anything and everything he asks us to, to stay on the path of putting him first and each other next and serving others,” he explained. “It was a hard thing to think about…but I was trusting God, and as we walked along the path, we decided to apply for the position.”
Initially, Wilkinson did not qualify for the position, as he did not hold the highest-ranking ordination in their denomination. However, as the requirement had since been relaxed, and as he was the best qualified for the position, he was inevitably considered.
“Two weeks later, I got a phone call from the state that said the church took a vote and they want us to come and be their next pastor,” he said. “He agreed, and we signed off on it.”
Wilkinson was elated, but he still had his concerns. He still had to consider his retirement, his insurance, and other benefits to ensure that he could survive on his income. Nevertheless, he made all the proper arrangements and is now set to minister at his new church.
“We know the possibilities are endless,” he said. “I am looking forward to seeing what God will do here to change lives and help this community. So I am really excited about what the future holds here.”
Wilkinson will miss many of the firefighters whom he has fostered close relationships with. Matt Hulen started at the fire department in 2007, having previously ridden for the department in high school. He considers Wilkinson to be a great leader, a Christian man, and an amiable boss. He could talk with him about anything on or off work. Getting used to him not being around the station will certainly take time, Hulen said.
“God changed plans on him, and when God opened up doors to him and moved his life into another direction…he thought it was the right thing to do and a time in his life to move forward in,” he said. “We understand what he is doing and we are proud of him for that.”
As for his old community of Lake Wales, he knows it is growing and thriving. He wishes everyone there the best, and that his old staff members will be able to meet any new challenges in his absence.
“The department is growing, and…as long as the city is growing, it is awesome to see the changes taking place,” he said. “The growth is coming whether we like it or not, but we want to make it the best it can be.”