VALPARAISO — The Rev. Ernest Walker is unsure how he'll feel when stepping up to the pulpit for the last time Sunday.
The 93-year-old said it's normal to be nervous before each message, especially knowing he is accountable before God for every word spoken these past 72-years as a preacher.
This sermon, however, will be different.
While his 92-year-old wife, children and great grandchildren gathered for lunch in the kitchen Wednesday, Walker sat in his dark green recliner with a large folder marked "sermons." He wrestled with what he should say to Sunday's congregation at First Baptist Church of Niceville, aware his appointment with God is coming soon.
"I'm terminal," Walker said while twisting the gold wedding ring fit tightly to his finger.
Walker was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2017 and received 10 months of treatment before going into remission. At his last check-up, Walker was told the cancer had returned.
This time, treatment wasn't an option.
"I think the idea is they want me to have a farewell sermon. They want me to preach one more time. Whether this is going to be a farewell sermon, only the Lord knows. I might be around longer."
Walker said he was not raised in a Jesus-believing, church-going family. The preacher's story of faith began in 1936 in Fairfield, Alabama, when he was 10 years old.
His mom and dad moved the family to a new neighborhood — one with a community church. The family began attending and his sister and father were the first to become Christians.
"It wasn't until high school when I received Jesus as my savior," Walker said. "My mother and I made our professions of faith together. I knew then I was called to the ministry, but it was the war years. I wanted to serve my country and I didn't feel I should make a decision about going into the ministry until I had done that. So, I went into the Marines."
Walker said he was on the front lines in Okinawa for 82 days during World War II. He served for two years in the U.S. Marines before returning home to the states.
"I was a machine gunner," Walker said. "I landed in the second wave and when I went in, the prospects that we would survive Okinawa were not looking good. It was supposed to be a very difficult landing. I had a confirmation in my heart that I'd make it out alright.
"I think God providentially cared for me while I was in combat. I think I was conscious then of not only the presence of the Lord, but I was conscious of His calling me."
Once returning home in August of 1946, Walker immediately began attending a ministry program at Samford University. Within six months, Walker received his first pastoral position.
He went on to attend New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary until 1955. He would travel 400 miles from New Orleans past Montgomery, Alabama, to preach at another church.
It was at his first assignment where he met the love of his life and 67-year companion — Mary Pauline Higginbothan.
"It was Village Springs Baptist Church above Birmingham, Alabama," Walker said. "She was in school but would come home on the weekends and I'd see her there. I knew immediately that she was the one for me."
The couple moved down to Valparaiso where they served as pastors together at First Baptist of Valparaiso for 30 years. He retired in 1990 and began interim and missions work in Germany.
"Most of the time since then had to do with going to churches without pastors and I served as their pastor when they didn't have one," Walker said. "We had interim work in Alaska and some here."
Walker will guest speak at churches on occasion, like he'll do at First Baptist Church in Niceville Sunday.
Looking back on his life, Walker's most treasured moments are ones in ministry and with family. He lived a full life, he said.
Although he's excited to meet God face-to-face, Walker said there is only one thing he's still struggling to accept.
"I had a good life of service and I've had a long time to serve the Lord Jesus," Walker said. "I'm ready to meet the Lord. In a way, it's exciting.
"The only thing with me is having to part with my companion of 67 years, Pauline. I think this is the biggest battle I have right now. When you love someone for 67 years and you've been together — she's been my partner wherever I've been — I think there's a lot you can't communicate with each other. We have had talks about what is going to happen when I leave this earth and how it's going to affect her. I think she's struggling with that."
During a conversation with the Daily News Wednesday, Walker settled on a sermon. He plans to preach a message called, "Do your best."
He said he doesn't want his last service to be about "Ernest Walker." Instead, he hopes to leave his people with words of instruction to help them face their futures.
"If someone is there who doesn't know the Lord, I want it to help them to maybe know the Lord," Walker said. "That has been my ministry all these years, to nurture the Christians and to try to win the lost to the Lord.
"There is a little parable in the Bible that Jesus gave," he continued. "...He said to those who had been faithful, 'Well done my good and faithful servant. You've been faithful over a few things and I'll make you ruler over many. Now enter into the joy of the Lord. I hope that I can hear that from Him. I think I will."