Bethel Baptist Church pastor Rudolph McKissick Steps Down after Serving for nearly Half Century (VIDEO)

By James Lam On January 6, 2014

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Pastor Rudolph McKissick preached his final sermon Sunday at Bethel Baptist Church. He retires at the age of 86 after his 47 years of service.(Photo : BOB MACK/The Times-Union)

Florida- Pastor Rudolph McKissick stepped down from daily pastoral duties Dec. 31 and preached his final sermon Sunday at Bethel Baptist Church. He retires at the age of 86 after his 47 years of service.

Pastor McKissick grew up in Bethel Church, the oldest African-American church in Florida. His father was a deacon there. He has worked as a mail deliverer for over a decade while he held several leadership roles at Bethel at the same time, according to Daily Record. When he got the call to pastor there, he left his postal job and put his full might into building the church.

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A peace maker among the community

"I'm refraining from saying I'm satisfied but I don't think that I could have done all that I could have done, or should have done, but I've done enough to impact many lives," McKissick told a local media.

Forming a youth basketball team is definitely one of the many instances. Actually, the pastor views this as one of the proudest moments throughtout his service at Bethel beause it has helped to break race barriers, according to Jacksonville.com.

When he began his pastorate at Bethel Baptist Institutional Church in 1966, pastor McKissick started a youth basketball team in order get the teens living in the surrounding largely African-American area off Jacksonville's streets and into the church.

He remembered how during the years of segregation when black churches were not allowed to be a part of the church sports league; he had fought to break that barrier without any question. This was significant because out of it came some major changes to the way youth ministries now work in the community churches.

Having served the community for decades, McKissick became an important leader for all of Jacksonville and a trusted adviser for the city's officials.

"He's one of two or three people in the community that I can spill my guts to," said Richard Danford, Jacksonville Urban League president and a longtime Bethel member, in April in the church's anniversity. "He's there ... ministering not only to his congregation but to the community. He has the ability to transcend race, to communicate in different multi-race and economic settings."

Nat Glover, Edward Waters College president and former sheriff, said, "He is able to transcend the whole notion of race." "When he speaks, people listen, from both sides of the track ... His is a voice who will be heard. When you've got that kind of influence and power, you have to be a good steward of it."

"He understands humans," said former Mayor John Delaney, now president of the University of North Florida. Delaney said McKissick had helped him connect with the African-American community when he was first elected.

A cancer conqueror

Pastor Mckissick is a prostate cancer survivor. Diagnosed at the age of 70, the spry and debonair 80 year-old maintained his faith through six weeks of radiation followed by a 2010 recurrence stimulated by the treatment's grueling effects.

"Physical bodies are subject to sickness," McKissick said. "We are spiritual beings in a natural body that is temporary. I needed to internalize what I had regardless of who I think I am.", according to Florida Courier.

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Pastor Rudolph McKissick Senior (right) and Pastor Rudolph McKissick Junior

Passing the torch

McKissick now passes the torch to his son, Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick Jr, also a prostate cancer survivor, who will soon be on the pulpit without his father. The father and son have shared the pulpit for 17 years as co-pastors. Rudolph Junior says he will follow his father's lead.

"Filling his shoes is impossible, I need to make my own shoes but then be smart enough to follow the footprints his shoes made," said McKissick Jr.

VIDEO: Bethel Baptist Church pastor Rudolph McKissick steps down