ST. PETERSBURG — The Rev. Manuel Sykes, well-known pastor of Bethel Community Baptist Church, will not be retiring soon, after all.
Sykes announced his plan to retire about four months ago, saying he would be devoting his time to his health and completing a dissertation for a doctorate in counseling psychology.
Last week he said that those goals have not changed, but that his congregation had persuaded him to remain. That happened one Sunday about three weeks ago, Sykes said, when one of his ministers stood up in front of the church and "made an announcement that God put it on his heart that I'm not going to be leaving for another five years."
The ovation from the congregation "was really overwhelming," said Sykes, who will turn 60 Tuesday. "I felt renewed from their response. I agreed to do the best I can, for as long as I can."
In the weeks since, church elders also have gone before the congregation to persuade him to stay at the church he's led for almost a quarter-century.
Besides heading the congregation of about 350 active members at 2901 54th Ave. S, Sykes has led the St. Petersburg NAACP and aspired to political office.