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First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross

As Bethel Baptist's Lead Pastor Steps Down, His Son Steps Up

Bethel Baptist Institutional Church

For 47 years, Bishop Rudolph McKissick Sr. was at the pulpit every Sunday at Bethel Baptist Institutional Church in Jacksonville. This month he preached his last sermon as lead pastor.Melissa Ross sat down with McKissick Sr. and his son, Bishop Rudolph McKissick Jr., who is the new lead pastor of the church. 

“It was emotional indeed, but a positive emotion.” said McKissick Sr., when asked about his final sermon on Jan. 5.

"I was born and bred in Bethel, so stepping down as pastor does not mean I will be stepping out as a member. I’ll be around.”

McKissick Sr. was 37 when he took the role as lead pastor after being a mail carrier for 13 years. He felt overwhelmed.

“I was a neophyte as a preacher,” he said.

McKissick Sr. has advised and counseled past mayors and sheriffs, and will continue to do so.

“I wasn’t aggressive,” he said. “I didn’t go to them. They always came to me. So if that is an attitude of any other mayor, I would certainly respond.”

Following his father’s footsteps, McKissick Jr. has been co-pastoring with his father since 2000.

“I’m not now just coming on board,” he said. “The shift is from dual leadership to single leadership. While it is a subtle shift, it is a significant shift.”

McKissick Jr. has been a pastor at two other churches in two different states, and feels confident that he is capable of fulfilling his father’s roles.

“When one steps away, there is a readjustment,” he said. “So that’s a challenge that I am looking forward to.”

McKissick Sr. grew up in a segregated Jacksonville and believes the city is still divided and unequal in many ways.

“It’s not like it was when I was a young adult or child, but it’s not anywhere near where it should be,” he said.

While growing up, McKissick Sr. never thought that there would be a world that wasn't segregated.

“There was no inkling of it,” he said. “No preaching or teaching of it. So we had no reason to think it.”

As he watched the civil rights movement inform society on the inequality in America, he began to think that blacks could finally be equal.

McKissick Jr. agreed with his father.

“I think we have yet to come to a place where we love and respect each other beyond political ideology, beyond skin color and beyond economic barriers,” he said.

“I think those things are still very prevalent and are gaps that still need to be closed.”

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax and Emily Long @EMchanted_.


Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.
WJCT News Intern Emily Long is a Communications Major, Marketing Minor at Jacksonville University. She is also News Editor of Jacksonville University's campus newspaper, The Navigator.