CARL VALLANCE IS A BIG MAN with the biggest voice you’ve ever heard. For 66 years, that God-given trumpet designed for preaching, has been the single-most recognizable symbol of West Virginia Free Will Baptists.
Legend of the Voice
The coal miner’s son (now 88) needed all the volume that giant-sized voice could muster during a church celebration in the 1940s when he preached to 3,000 people during an open-air revival on the lawn by Island Creek Coal Company’s store.
“We had no microphones,” Vallance recalls. “The volume came from us as we preached. The women fried chickens all night in 50-gallon lard buckets to feed the people on 200-foot tables that we made. The Sheriff’s Department provided the chickens, and the coal company provided a truckload of watermelons.”
The most famous Voice episode occurred during a revival Brother Vallance preached when a man was saved who heard the sermon while sitting on his front porch a quarter-mile from the church.
Carl laughed, “This fellow’s house was straight down the aisle of the church and across the valley on the opposite hillside. I could see him on the porch. He went on to bed, but God woke him up in the middle of the night. Next thing we knew, this 300-pound fellow was banging on the pastor’s door yelling that he had to get saved!”
That same voice has been heard by national convention delegates since 1940. Vallance’s booming remarks during business sessions and prayers from the balcony in a crowd of 5,000 people left no doubt who was speaking when Carl addressed Heaven or the moderator.
Ministry that Matters
Converted in 1938 at age 20, Carl said, “I think God called me to preach the night He saved me. I just couldn’t get enough of church and the work of God.”
A year later, he married pretty Laura LaVerne Hall, a girl he saw working in a Five-and-Ten-Cent store, and convinced his cousin to introduce them. They had two sons. Robert, who died in 2006 at age 64, taught engineering at Marshall University and designed Central FWB Church. James, the youngest son who never stopped talking, grew up to be a Christian DJ and general director of the Master’s Men Department.
Photo: Vallance shares a moment with Free Will Baptist missionary pioneer, Tom
(Pop) Willey. Benito
(middle) poses next to Tom
Willey, Jr. (right).
Strong as a bull with work-hardened hands, Carl was ordained to preach in 1940 and pastored 56 years, spending 45 years in his last two Huntington pastorates—Thomas Memorial FWB Church (26 years) and Central FWB Church (19 years) which he organized in 1976.
His entire ministry has been in West Virginia; his is the most trusted voice in the state. He served as state moderator, executive secretary and parliamentarian. In 1958 he was elected West Virginia’s General Board member to the National Association of Free Will Baptists. For 48 years (longer than anyone else in history), he served on the General Board, a third of that time with the Executive Committee, responsible for planning annual national convention programs.
He helped build (with a hammer) five Free Will Baptist churches and helped organize seven others. He champions denominational outreach, missing three national conventions in 66 years, and two state meetings (hospitalized both times) since its 1946 organization.
Preacher Vallance wore two hats his first 50 years of ministry, working as a carpenter while pastoring. He recognized the importance of planning ahead. Twelve years ago, he established a revocable trust with the FWB Foundation that provides additional revenue for retirement.
He began pastoring before ministerial retirement programs. He joined the FWB Superannuation program that became the Board of Retirement and broadened to include the FWB Foundation.
“I wanted to leave my money with the Superannuation/Retirement Board at age 70,” Vallance said. “But they made me take it out. I thought about it, and then set up a revocable trust with the Foundation.”
He paused, “Advise preachers to put part of every check in a retirement account. There’ll come a time when they’ll need that money more than now. Tell them I lived 26 years in parsonages and 35 years in my own house. A housing allowance is better.”
With his health declining, Vallance remembers the early 1940s and considers those years the high water mark of his life.
“One year when I was Mingo County Conference Evangelist,” he said, “I drove 65,000 miles and received $165 from the churches...and loved every minute of it. In a revival with Melvin Sanford, we had 83 saved, organized three conferences and saw 13 churches born.”
Carl can name more than 20 men called to preach to preach under his ministry. But don’t ask how many sermons he preached, revivals conducted, or conversions witnessed. “I let God handle the numbers,” he says. “I have a stack of sermons over two feet high. That’s all the counting I do.”
What would he change about his ministry? “Nothing,” he said. “Well, maybe more education. I talked to Dr. L.C. Johnson about going to Free Will Baptist Bible College. He told me I was already pastoring a larger church (averaged 500) than most men, supporting the college with finances and students, and to continue what I was doing. I did.”
The Voice of West Virginia stood and said, “I’m taking daily chemo treatments, but nothing has changed about God’s work. My counsel to young men and leaders is simple—Get up, get out, and get going!”
Editor’s Note: Only days after being interviewed for this article, the voice of West Virginia was silenced. Carl Vallance died on May 27, 2006, but his legacy lives on.
After more than 30 years as the editor of Contact Magazine, Jack Williams now serves as publications editor for Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville, TN. Email Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org.