ELIZABETHTOWN — “Those are big shoes to fill.”
That is the sentiment enumerated countless times since residents of Bladen County learned of the imminent departure of Bruce Cannon, Bladen Baptist Association director of missions.
The association announced this week that the Rev. Charles Hester will be replacing Cannon as interim director of missions when Cannon leaves Bladen County to pastor a church in the mountains of North Carolina.
“He’s a local boy, respected and admired by people, so he brings instant credibility to the office. He knows the needs of the churches, having served as pastor himself, and he works well with laity,” said Cannon of what Hester would bring to Bladen County churches.
He added, “In this position, you have to be able to listen to whomever comes to talk, whether it’s about church issues or home life. He brings that capability with him. He’s also very mission-minded and has been instrumental in mission outreach in his previous churches.”
Cannon will be vacating the position at the end of March, but Hester has already begun his orientation period, and he began work in the associational office on Tuesday.
For the month of March, Cannon will be training Hester on his duties, including creating the year-long associational calendar and becoming acquainted with the ministries at Crossroads, the Christian Women’s Job Core, Released Time School ministries, and the numerous other outreach efforts coordinated by the office. In addition, Hester will be responsible for casting a vision for ministry for the churches he will be overseeing.
Hester assumes the role fresh off a stint as interim pastor of Elizabethtown Baptist Church, a position he held from September to February. Prior to that , he invested 45 years in full-time pastorate positions, including one at Reigelwood Baptist Church.
Hester will inherit responsibility for 50 churches, and Cannon commented on the state of the Baptist churches he is passing along to Hester.
“They’re in good shape,” he said. “Every church across the country — not just Bladen County — needs revival, but there is no conflict, and the churches aren’t torn apart internally by division. The churches are good, and there are so many good people here.”
Cannon was also asked what he thought would be some challenges facing Hester.
“As I’m leaving Bladen County 27 years later, drugs are more prevalent than when we came here and there are more problems in the homes,” Cannon said. “They break my heart. I wish I could say we erradicated those problems, but homes have deteriorated and drugs continue to be a problem. It’s those kind of things I leave wishing we had done better.”
Despite the challenges facing the Christian church, Hester is clear on what his mission here will be.
“My role as interim is to continue the ministries Bruce has so ably put together and maintain the ministries of the churches, working together at the associational level to accomplish ministry that no one church could accomplish alone,” he said.
As Cannon passes the baton to someone else, he leaves with one message for Bladen County: “The really hard part is to communicate to Bladen County that we love them. We’ve been here 27 years, but God has given us this other church to work with. We want to leave with people understanding that we love Bladen and always will.”
A reception to honor the Rev. Bruce and Mrs. Wendy Cannon will be held Sunday, March 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Family Life Center of Dublin First Baptist Church. All are welcome to come out and thank the Cannons for their 27 years of service in Bladen County.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.