One day in 1994, a 27-year-old Layne Fields left New York and his wife behind. He had all his worldly goods in the car with him when he came to a fork in the road that directed him to Richmond, Va., if he went one way, or to Atlanta, if he went another.
He chose Georgia, and he also chose the Lord.
"I had no destination," said Fields, who, 17 years later, is the new pastor of Old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Conyers. "I was on my way driving down the road and I got saved behind the wheel of my car. I surrendered my life to the Lord. When I got here, the first thing I did was find a church, which was not like me at all."
A young married man, Fields said he and his wife were having marital problems at the time. He had left her and his native Long Island, N.Y., behind and headed South.
Fields said he grew up going to church, thanks to his mother, whom he calls a "faithful and diligent church worker." But he said when he "came of age," he was finished with church.
"I did my best to rebel," he said. "In my mid-20s, I was defining my manhood and was a young married man with a series of life circumstances."
When he got to Georgia, he found help with those life circumstances, going to church and growing stronger in his walk with the Lord. His wife joined Fields and he said they were able to repair their relationship. Eventually they became the parents of two children, a daughter, Sydney, now 12, and a son, Spencer, now 11.
Once his wife arrived in Georgia, Fields' struggles were not yet over. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Eight years after moving to Georgia, she died. Fields takes comfort in knowing that she "went to be with the Lord." She had not grown up in church and it was her husband who shared the gospel with her and led her Christ.
At that time, Fields and his family lived in Decatur where they were active members of New Piney Grove Missionary Baptist Church. Fields served as a church layman.
In 1997, he said he felt the Lord leading him to preach the gospel. He was licensed into the ministry in 1997 and ordained in 1999. Fields served as an associate minister at the church and counts as his greatest mentors the pastor who ordained him, Pastor J. Philip Baker, who was the minister of New Piney Grove and now leads Trinity Bible Church in Covington, and the man who is now the minister of New Piney Grove, Pastor Dexter Rowland.
As a widower with two young children, Fields stayed active at Piney Grove and worked to establish his new repair and remodeling business. He also remarried to Lynne Fields, a former member of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta. She now works alongside her husband as he pastors Old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church
After serving as an associate minister at New Piney Grove, he started a church that met for about six years in his home. He then became the new pastor at Old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church. He has led the 137-year-old Conyers church for about six months.
Fields said he and the congregation are "excited" about the future of the historic church.
"Things have been wonderful," he said. "Old Pleasant Hill has had her share of difficulties, but the congregation is very excited about moving forward and being revitalized, re-energized and renewed."
Fields holds a bachelor's degree in speech communication from Pace University and he is earning his master's degree in theology at Luther Rice Seminary. He said his "heart's desire is to help people understand the word of God." He teaches with a "great deal of enthusiasm," he said.
Recently, Fields and the congregation unveiled the church's vision and mission statement, which reads: "God's vision for the congregation of Old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church is to create and maintain an environment that promotes spiritual growth, H.O.P.E. and empowerment. Our purpose is to be fruitful in five areas -- winning souls, developing mature believers, producing servant-leaders, impacting our community for Christ and maintaining a healthy and vibrant local church."
Fields said the church wants to concentrate on: spiritual growth, empowering people by helping them with job interview skills, resume writing and finance management and giving them H.O.P.E., an acronym for "help overcoming problematic experiences." He wants to offer aid to those suffering from depression, grief, divorce, domestic violence and other issues.
Fields invites the community to come visit Old Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, located at 300 Honey Creek Road in Conyers, for Sunday School at 9:30 a.m., worship at 11 a.m. on Sundays and Bible study on Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m. and Wednesdays from 7 to 8 p.m.
The sanctuary, which was remodeled a few years ago, seats 350. At present, around 120 attend regularly.
The pastor, who is teaching himself to play the piano and who has such a passion for praise and worship that he writes songs, enjoys spending time with his wife and children, both of whom attend Conyers Middle School.
Fields said his "signature life passage of Scripture" is the first chapter of Psalms, which begins, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord ..."
"(This is important to me) especially in knowing there was a time in my life when my delight was not in the Lord," Fields said. "All that changed when I came to Christ."
Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at email@example.com.