Friday, June 16, 2000

Baptist leader has ties to Ky.

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Linda Linder remembers the Rev. James G. Merritt as a young country pastor who delivered a forceful message from the pulpit.

        The dynamic speaking style remains, but his stage has broadened immensely since leaving Buck Grove Baptist Church in Meade County.

        The Rev. Mr. Merritt was elected Tuesday as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, during its annual convention in Orlando, Fla.

        The Rev. Mr. Merritt, pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga., has strong links to Kentucky. He attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and preached at Kentucky churches.

Pastor at Buck Grove
        The Rev. Mr. Merritt, 47, was pastor at Buck Grove from 1979 to 1983, when the country church surrounded by hay and corn fields grew from 449 to 665 members. The church is 4 miles east of Ekron and 10 miles west of Fort Knox.

        Ms. Linder, the church's secretary for the past 28 years, said the Rev. Mr. Merritt put a lot of energy into honing his speaking skills and message.

        Like other pastors, he juggled many tasks, including hospital visits to ailing church members and presiding at funerals and weddings.

        “He'd made a wonderful evangelist and could follow in Billy Graham's footsteps,” Ms. Linder said.

        “He is such a dynamic speaker and people will respond to him. People really accept Christ through his preaching and through his message.”

Credit for growth
        John English, a deacon at Buck Grove church during the Rev. Mr. Merritt's tenure, said he was a good pastor who deserved to share in the credit for the church's growth. The church now has 738 members.

        But Mr. English, who considers himself a moderate on church matters, said he didn't always agree with the Rev. Mr. Merritt's conservatism.

        “I don't approve of the way the Southern Baptist Convention is leaning right now,” Mr. English said.

        “But he's a fine man, and he'll make a good president for the type of convention it is right now.”

        The Rev. Mr. Merritt earned a master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1978 and a doctorate in philosophy in 1982.

        Seminary President the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., a prominent conservative leader, predicted that the Rev. Mr. Merritt would make an outstanding president.

        The Rev. Mr. Mohler called the Rev. Mr. Merritt a “consistent conservative” who represents most Southern Baptists.


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