WILMINGTON — A five-month transition period starts this month for the founding pastor of Clinton County’s largest church congregation, after which he moves to the pulpit at the Bible Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia.
Until a “Farewell Sunday” is held in June, Bible Baptist Church (BBC) of Wilmington Senior Pastor Kelly D. McInerney will travel back and forth, pastoring in both places to help ensure a smooth transition.
The current pastor in Savannah is retiring, and contacted McInerney in October. McInerney said that’s when he began a process of praying, fasting, visiting the Georgia church, speaking to senior staff here and discussing the big decision with a couple pastor friends.
The move will mean a different environment for the McInerney family: from North to South, from the Midwest to the coast, and from rural to urban — Savannah has a population of about 145,000. The change involves stepping out of a comfort zone here, he said.
“But the Lord asks us to do hard things sometimes,” said McInerney, who founded the BBC here 22 years ago.
The Bible Baptist Church of Savannah is 63 years old. There was a time in the 1980s and early 1990s when its attendance ran close to 1,000 people. Nowadays, it runs about 600 to 700.
The hope in Savannah is the church there can be brought back to its former strengths, McInerney said.
Because BBC of Wilmington is strong, he has a peace of mind that it’s a good time to hand it off to a new senior pastor, Joshua Dixon, a BBC associate pastor for 16 years.
McInerney feels that the excitement and energy of BBC of Wilmington is as good as it’s ever been. Sunday morning attendance is near 1,000, and this summer or early fall they will hold a mortgage burning for the most recent facility addition at the 32-acre campus.
There have been very few disappointments for him in the independent Baptist church’s 22 years, he said. He did mention two when asked when had he felt the lowest during his ministry.
“One of course was when DHL pulled out,” said the 47-year-old pastor.
BBC of Wilmington had 50 families with members who worked at the Wilmington Air Park who were directly affected by the exit.
“We had people who didn’t know what to do, and people who had to move. We were close to 1,000 people there and dropped to about 800 in that time span,” he said.
The second disheartening thing that McInerney brought up occurred during the same time frame. He said he was disappointed by some of the local reaction that was directed toward BBC and others for opposing a 2008 proposal for a casino in Clinton County.
The Bible Baptist Church of Wilmington was a leader among several local churches that opposed a resort casino project near the Interstate 71 and State Route 73 interchange.
“We took a lot of hits about the casino issue,” McInerney said.
“The reason that that was a little disappointing to me was I felt like a lot of people in our community — with the [pending] absence of DHL — were looking for a quick fix,” he said. “I was proud of our community that there were people who felt it wasn’t right; Clinton County was not the right place for it because we’re a place of faith and family and values.”
McInerney added that some residents accused local faith-based opponents of the proposed casino of being anti-job and not wanting to help people.
“Not true of course. That was the emotional reaction. It wasn’t the right thing and history has proven it out,” he said.
BBC of Wilmington already is talking about taking its youth group to Savannah for an inner-city type mission program in summer 2018. The Wilmington church includes about 100 teenagers.
McInerney has ministered to local law enforcement personnel as the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office chaplain for 18 years, and as the Ohio State Highway Patrol district chaplain for 15 years. In addition, BBC created Clinton County Law Enforcement Appreciation Day in 1998 to observe the anniversary of the Kehoe brothers’ two shoot-outs in Wilmington against city police, sheriff’s deputies and patrol troopers.
The congregation’s entire offering of $19,000 collected the Sunday after Sept. 11, 2001 was sent to New York City, divided equally among the New York Police Department, New York Fire Department and the Salvation Army.
BBC of Wilmington is a regional church, its faithful driving from nine counties. The church always has drawn well from Warren County, with about 100 members presently, while the church’s first eight attendees all were from the Clinton-Massie area.
“They tell us we are the largest church in Clinton County history, and we’ve tried to make a big impact on a small town. People here are strong in their faith and they’re strong in their desire to represent Christ well in our community,” he said.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.