Pastor retires after 47 years at Bethel Baptist Institutional Church

Bishop Rudolph McKissick Sr. retires from oldest African American church in Fla.

By Kumasi Aaron - Reporter/The Morning Show anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A local pastor of 47 years at the oldest African-American church in Florida retired on Sunday.

Bishop Rudolph McKissick Sr. retired Sunday as pastor of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church.

Standing in the pulpit as pastor for the last time, Bishop McKissick doesn't look like a man who needs to retire, but he said he made the decision for three reasons.

"Change of generation, and 47 years and 86 years," said McKissick.

At 86, McKissick is the longest serving pastor of Bethel Baptist, a state recognized institution serving Jacksonville for 175 years.

A member of the church since his childhood, members unanimously chose the mailman and music ministry leader to serve as pastor in 1966.

Bethel Baptist has grown tremendously in the 47 years since Bishop Senior became pastor. When he first started there were just 500 members. Now, the congregation's numbers are around 12,000.

Sylvia Bryley said it was Bishop Senior's spirit that made her want to join the church nearly two decades ago.

"He just exuberates love, wisdom, knowledge," said Bryley. "He is just a person who, I mean, you can feel his warmth."

The congregation joined Bishop McKissick Sr's son and co-pastor Bishop McKissick Jr. to honor their longtime leader.

For the last 17 years, father and son have pastored the church together.

Bishop Jr. admits taking the helm on his own makes him a little nervous, but he said working side by side with his father has been the ultimate preparation.

"It's given me somebody to watch up close and personal who is the ultimate example of what a pastor should be, so I have no excuse not to be successful," said Bishop Jr.

As he passes the torch to his son, Bishop Senior makes it clear he's only retiring from pastoring, not from serving his church and his community, and he's excited about what's next.

"Well, I'll wait on the Lord to really -- well I think he's going to let me have a good time first. I'm just kidding," said McKissick. "I think he's going to let me have a little relaxation first and then down to business of ministry."

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