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Georgia Baptist Convention picks ex-Riverbend pastor
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When the Rev. Bucky Kennedy started in the Baptist ministry, he never expected to become president of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

But on Nov. 13, the former pastor of Riverbend Baptist Church in Gainesville and current pastor of First Baptist Church of Vidalia was elected as the GBC president during its 186th annual meeting in Augusta.

"I just had never thought much about being president," he said. "Of course, I’m a native Georgian and have been involved with the state convention for a long time. But some of the guys that have served in this position have just been men of incredible character and leadership ability, so you just don’t ever think of yourself in those terms."

But mother-in-law Hazel Dover of Gainesville is not surprised a bit.

"It broke (the Riverbend Baptist congregation’s) heart, but when God calls you and you have work to do, and you finish that job in one place, then he sends you to another," she said. "(They knew) that was in God’s plan for him, but still it broke their heart."

Before heading down to Vidalia in 2003, Kennedy was pastor of Riverbend Baptist for nine and a half years.

"Riverbend was the first church I’ve ever pastored and it will always have special significance to me. The people there are just some of the sweetest people in the world," Kennedy said.

Dover added, "He has such a vision for Christ, and it is just amazing how the Lord is really using him."

Kennedy’s wife, Stacey Dover Kennedy, also is a Gainesville native and attended North Hall High School. The couple have two children — daughter Hannah, 16, and son Ivey, 12 — and still have strong connections to the Gainesville community.

One close family friend is Bob Christmas, North Hall High School’s football coach, who was excited to hear about his friend’s recent achievement.

"Well, first of all, Bucky is one of my best friends. We are very close and we talk weekly and I have the utmost respect for Bucky as a pastor," Christmas said. "He is someone that has the utmost integrity and is just a man of God. At the same time, his respect in the state amongst other pastors is really growing because of the person he was and is."

Christmas and his family attended Riverbend for several years when they moved to Gainesville, and Kennedy served as the chaplain of the North Hall football team.

In his new position, which he will serve from his church in Vidalia, Kennedy will have many new responsibilities but will most importantly represent the GBC.

"I’m involved in the selection of members for various committees throughout the state convention, and then I serve at ex-officio on several of the committees in the state convention," the Midville native said. "But basically, it is to represent the Georgia Baptist Convention, so wherever I preach at conferences or associational meetings or churches, I do my best to represent the ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention."

Kennedy succeeds the Rev. Wayne Hamrick of Wayne Hamrick Ministries in Cartersville and is not the only local pastor to achieve the presidential position with the GBC. The Rev. James Merritt, a native of South Hall, also held the position.

So, to represent the GBC to the fullest of his ability, Kennedy said he thinks the first goal is to reach both believers and unbelievers.

"LifeWay (a Southern Baptist Ministry) did a report ... which said that 85 percent of students that graduate high school that attend church don’t ever go back to church," he said. "So we are losing a generation.

"And that is not just in the Southern Baptist Convention — that is within all churches."

Kennedy said there are several ways to reach the younger generation, and it all begins with Scripture.

"We need to do what we are told in Scripture and that is the fact the Jesus Christ is the only way," he said. "We need to go back to the claims of Christ and start preaching evangelistically. ... We’ve been given all the tools so I think we need to be effective in communicating what God has told us."

There are a few reasons why the church is seeing fewer members, he said, including the relevance of the message, busy lifestyles and the prosperity of the country.

"You want to pick a reason, but the church has gone through a lot of transition in the past two decades," Kennedy said. "In the midst of prosperity many people don’t seem to seek God."

There is one statistic, though, that Kennedy said he thinks is important for everyone to remember when giving thought to their personal spirituality.

"One out of one of person will die," he said. "The issue is not so much the ‘here-and-now’ but ‘what is going to happen when we die’ and ‘where are we going to spend eternity.’"

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