FIRST GLIMPSE: Quillie
I don’t remember much about my maternal grandfather. He died when I was only six, so my memories are shadowy at best. I faintly recall a godly, quiet man who occasionally rested a gentle hand on my head, taught me to fish, and prayed such long prayers that I invariably dozed off before he finished. I remember walking beside him through the scuppernong vineyard behind his North Florida cottage and watching him tend his garden with utmost care. But that’s it. That’s all I can remember. And it is one of my greatest regrets that, as hard as I try, I cannot remember hearing him preach. Over the years, however, with the help of my family, I have pieced together the following story of his life.
Quillie (short for Aquilla) Hansley was born in 1895 in a log cabin near the small coastal town of Sneads Ferry, North Carolina. He had little time for school and spent most of his childhood and teen years working the fields and coastal waters to help support the family. He volunteered for naval service during World War I. It was there he received his first Bible. He read it, especially the Book of Proverbs, which he read again and again, although at the time he had no understanding of what it meant to be a Christian.
With naval service complete, Quillie returned home and began earning a living as a farmer and grocer. In 1922, he married Janie Penelope (Penny) Heath, and the couple soon moved to Durham where they found jobs in a hosiery mill. A Christian with deep roots in Free Will Baptists, Penny insisted they go to church, and they began attending First FWB Church pastored by T.C. Marks. Before long, Quillie heard the gospel and accepted Christ. He began to study the Scriptures earnestly, sharing what he learned with anyone who would listen.
Photo: Quillie (far left) and military friends in France during World War I.
In 1933, the couple moved to the Sherron Acres community just outside of Durham. Quillie grew concerned about the lack of a church in the area, so he began to organize prayer meetings in neighborhood homes. When these meetings grew too large, he purchased a small building, a former dance hall, and began holding services. Hansley’s Chapel, as the little church was named, grew quickly, and in 1934, with the help of co-founder and retired carpenter R.L. Hutchins, he purchased and dismantled an old Baptist church building and moved it—piece by piece—more than 30 miles to be reconstructed in Durham. Eighty-five years later, the church, now Sherron Acres FWB Church, continues to thrive.
After studying briefly at Holmes Bible Institute in the early 1940s, Quillie returned to the Durham area and began a “tent-making” ministry, working to support himself and his family while pastoring four struggling churches. He developed a successful fruit and vegetable delivery business, with a weekly route through the city. Everywhere he went, he shared Christ, and he was often invited into the homes of his customers to pray for the sick and to minister to their spiritual needs. Quillie didn’t stop when he came to the “segregated streets” of Hayti. Despite the deep racial tension in the 1940s South, he took his unique ministry into Durham’s traditionally black community, determined to share the gospel with everyone who would listen.
In 1951, the Hansleys moved to Jacksonville, Florida. Ever the businessman, Quillie purchased Timiquana Trailer Park, with 10 cottages and spaces for travel trailers or mobile homes. Once again, he developed a deep burden for the community, especially the children in the park. The family began to host Sunday School classes in their home but soon needed more room.
After purchasing a corner lot nearby, in November 1952, the 110th Street FWB Church (later Wesconnett FWB Church) held its first service in a former open-air fruit market with sawdust floors. It was the church where Quillie would serve faithfully until his death in 1979, first as pastor and later as quiet leader and encourager.
Why share Quillie’s story that is admittedly more biography than editorial? Because it is your story as well as mine. It is the story of countless faithful men across the denomination like my grandfather, who labored wherever God planted them, without fanfare or recognition, working long hours all day and preparing sermons at night. Their legacy lives on in the lives of their family, their congregations, the young men who answered the call to preach under their ministry, and in the churches they left behind.
While I can’t publish a pastor appreciation article for all of them, I wish I could. They deserve it.
About the Columnist: Eric K. Thomsen is managing editor of ONE Magazine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.