BPC graduate returns to area as pastor

By Terry Gaston
BPC Public Relations

VIDALIA -- While a student at Brewton-Parker College, Bucky Kennedy grew as a young Christian and began a road that led to a recent return to the area as a pastor.

Kennedy, a 1985 associate's degree graduate of Brewton-Parker, became pastor of First Baptist Church in Vidalia in October after spending nine years as a pastor in north Georgia and two previous years in full-time evangelism.

"The college campus is a setting when you need to make some big decisions in your life, and at a Christian school you need to have a clear grasp of what they believe," Kennedy said in recalling his personal experiences at Brewton-Parker while seeing his new position as an opportunity to link with current students.

"It was a good time. It challenged me in academics and faith and gave me a basis to make some really hard social decisions."

Kennedy's path to Brewton-Parker, which was still a two-year college at the time, included a 1-1/2-year detour through Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. While playing football for the Eagles, Kennedy suffered an injury that might have led to him getting his prodigal lifestyle redirected.

"At Georgia Southern, my focus was on football and partying," said Kennedy, who was graduated from Edmund Burke Academy in Waynesboro and had attended Thomas Jefferson Academy in Louisville.

Although raised in the church, Kennedy said he was lost. He gave his life to Christ in November 1983, but his academics had suffered and he needed another direction - aided by his father.

"My dad gave me two choices: either go to the Army or Brewton-Parker," he said. "I had a complete changed of attitude."

So after choosing Brewton-Parker in the winter of 1984, Kennedy reset his priorities and was graduated in the spring of 1985 with an associate's degree in psychology.

"Going to Brewton-Parker totally changed that focus. I was raised in the church, but the idea of Christianity was still new to me," Kennedy said. "I was excited about having Bible and ministry classes. I knew I needed to succeed academically, and Brewton-Parker allowed me to challenge my faith."

While at BPC, Kennedy participated in summer student ministries, traveling more than 8,500 miles around Georgia with fellow students Kevin Wallace and Jennifer Brooks Wallace on an evangelism team.

"It was a fun place to be at school. It was kind of a protected environment in that it had the identity as a Baptist school. The pressures were there, but they were different. I like what Dr. (David) Smith (Brewton-Parker's president) says, that 'We are unapologetically Christian.' "

Kennedy then returned to Georgia Southern an earned a bachelor's degree in commercial recreation. "I had been around athletics all my life and it was something I liked doing," he said. "I had been in youth ministry, so I thought it might come in handy."

He traveled as an evangelist for two years and spent another two years as student pastor in Clermont, Calif., before taking the pastorate at River Bend Baptist Church in Gainesville, where he served for nine years and oversaw substantial growth.

"We were very happy there. It was a growing church in a great area," said Kennedy, who also has worked toward earning a master of divinity degree from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tenn. "There were still challenges we had to overcome, but they were good challenges. I thought I would retire there."

As God often does in the lives of faithful followers, He pulled Kennedy out of a situation of contentment.

Kennedy had been back at Brewton-Parker in February 2003 as a chapel speaker, and that visit planted a seed in his return to the area as pastor at First Baptist in Vidalia.

So Kennedy and his wife, Stacey, and children Hannah and Ivey made the move. The Kennedy children attend First Baptist's Heritage Christian Academy.

"The Lord has especially blessed me with Bucky's arrival as pastor of First Baptist Church, Vidalia," Brewton-Parker President Smith said. "For five years, he has been a friend who has assisted me in presenting Brewton-Parker College as a friend to Georgia Baptists. Now he is my pastor.

"I know Bucky to be a man of strength: in his convictions, in his vision, and in his leadership. On top of all that, he may be the funniest man in south Georgia."

"We want to be a cog in the wheel and be a part of the students' spiritual growth," Kennedy said of the church's relationship with Brewton-Parker. "Brewton-Parker gave me the foundation for my life. To be able to benefit the school is an incredible thing to me, and I am delighted to be able to do that."