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Pastor to lead tragedy-stricken church

BRANDON - Nearly a year after its senior pastor died in a plane crash, the congregation of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon has appointed a new permanent pastor. At a churchwide conference May 3, members of Bell Shoals Baptist Church, 2101 Bell Shoals Road, confirmed the Rev. Stephen Rummage as their new senior pastor by a 99.8 percent vote. Rummage, 40, replaces the Rev. Forrest Pollock who died along with his 13-year-old son, Preston, when the single-engine plane he was piloting crashed on May 12, 2008. Two months later, on Aug. 16, the members of the church received a second blow when their pastor of music and worship ministries, Simeon Nix, died of a heart attack at the age of 47. Members of Bell Shoals officially met Rummage, his wife, Michele, and their 11-year-old son, Joshua, at a May 1 meet-and-greet.
Both Rummage and his wife grew up together and attended the same Baptist church in Greensboro, N.C. "I can't remember not knowing her," Rummage said. "I've even got a picture of her at my 4-year-old birthday party." They married 18 years ago. Michele Rummage was a school teacher before her son was born. She's especially interested in children's and women's ministries. She and her husband also enjoy leading marriage retreats and together they wrote the book, "Praying with Purpose: A 28-Day Journey to an Empowered Prayer Life" in 2006. "It was so obvious that we belonged here. We felt that God was calling us. It's almost impossible to explain," said Rummage, who was on a mission trip in El Salvador when someone mentioned to him he was a candidate for the Bell Shoals Baptist post. Rummage also was in El Salvador when he heard the news that Pollock had been killed in a plane crash. "We prayed for you by name," he told the Bell Shoals members. Rummage said he became a Christian while in kindergarten but didn't realize he was destined to be a pastor until he graduated from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro with a bachelor of arts in communication studies in 1990. He earned a master of divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Wake Forest, N.C., in 1993 and a doctor of philosophy in preaching from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 1998. Rummage has served pastorates in North Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia for 18 years. The prospect of heading a 7,000-member church doesn't intimidate him, however. "I'm used to large churches," he said. For the past five years, he's been pastor at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., which has 16,000 members. Prior to that, he was an associate professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He said he knew right away that Bell Shoals Baptist was the perfect fit for him. "The people and staff of Bell Shoals share the same heartbeat as me to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and reach every household with a message of hope," he said. Andy Adcock, chairman of the nine-person Bell Shoals pastor search committee formed in October, said Rummage fit all the criteria the committee outlined prior to beginning its mission. Adcock said the committee was seeking a senior pastor with consistency, accountability, a sense of humor, a good appearance, a heart for the lost, humility, a teachable spirit, a vision for missions, a wife who can relate to the people in the church and someone who loves and preaches the word of God. "It wasn't us who came to a unanimous decision," Adcock said. "It was God. God revealed to us some time in December that if we just waited for him, we couldn't mess this up." Rummage will begin his duties at Bell Shoals Baptist June 22 and will preach his first sermon June 28. His son will enter the seventh grade at Bell Shoals Baptist Academy in the fall.

Reporter D'Ann Lawrence White can be reached at (813) 657-4524.

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