A change of leadership came to Clear Springs Baptist Church Dec. 3, as new pastor the Rev. Justin Pratt gave his first sermon to the congregation at Harbison’s Crossroads. When 28-year pastor the Rev. Jerry Vittatoe announced his retirement last spring, a search committee got to work to find a pastor to carry on the church’s 190-year tradition as a beacon of light and hope in the Gibbs community.
So it’s fitting that they found Pratt, a pastor who values history, particularly what he calls “generational transfer of faith,” the importance of grandparents and parents passing the torch of faith down to their children at home and through the ministries of a home church.
“I was researching my family history on Ancestry.com and traced my lineage back 11 generations, all the way back to John Pratt who landed in Virginia in 1666,” said Pratt.
Ask him and he’ll recite the whole chain on ancestors from John down to his own kids, the 12th generation of Pratts in America. In the process of his research, Pratt found the Last Wills and Testaments of the last four generations.
“They all begin with, ‘I (first name) Pratt, being of sound mind and body, first do leave my soul to my creator which has redeemed me with his own blood,’ or words to that effect,” he said, and the discovery made him reflect on the his lineage of Christian faith, and how important it is “to pass that heritage of Christian faith to my children.”
Pratt is a Knoxville native and a graduate of Fulton High School and The Crown College. He was raised in Valley View Baptist Church, where he was baptized and where he announced his intent to become a minister at age 19. Valley View was also Pratt’s second pastoral posting, one he held for the past 11 years.
When he felt the call to come to Clear Springs, Pratt said leaving Valley View was the biggest challenge of his pastoral career, but “peace of God that passes all understanding” led the way. You can read a heartfelt letter from Pratt to the congregations of Clear Springs and Valley View past this link.
It’s early days yet in Pratt’s tenure at Clear Springs. His first official service will be Dec. 17. However, he already has plans for the church that tie into his dedication to generational faith. His goal for the first six months is to create a new children’s sanctuary and expand on the existing children’s ministry “to make sure we’re reaching the needs of the children of this community.”
“Children are not necessarily part of the church of tomorrow if we can’t make them part of the church of today,” he said.
He said he’s excited about all of Clear Springs’ 28 ministries, especially “what our church does in the community, tending to their spiritual, physical and emotional needs.”
“I’m super excited about being in the community surrounded by so many good, solid churches,” he said. “It’s not just about Clear Springs. It’s about the kingdom of God. We simply share with people the love of Jesus Christ and help them grow in a working, loving relationship with God.”
Pratt is married to Hannah, his wife of nine years, and they have three children: Lydia, Lincoln and Asher. Pratt is a sports enthusiast who in his spare time volunteers as a TSSAA referee and a chaplain with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
The church is planning a retirement ceremony for Vittatoe on Sunday, Jan 7. Vittatoe will be recognized during morning worship with a reception to follow.