FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Thirty-five years ago, a surgeon gave Everett Hawkins a death sentence.
“It was in November and he said I’d never see another Christmas,” said the longtime Kentucky Baptist pastor who was having his first of three bouts with cancer.
God cured him because he had other plans for his life.
Sunday will be the last day in the pulpit of Faith Baptist Church for Hawkins, who has served faithfully for 32 years. It hasn’t always been easy, but Hawkins preaches like it’s his dying day. After all, he knows what that feels like.
“Two impacts that really came from that (cancer),” he said. “Number one, it made realize how to live. I never wished another day away. I never went to work on Monday and wished it was Friday. Take each day and the joy within it.”
The second impact, he said, was “helping people step through the door of death.” Hawkins had been there, preparing for the end, preparing his wife and children for what looked like the inevitable. “It made it easy for people to talk about that and that’s well worthwhile. I think everything has a reason.”
Hawkins is retiring on his own terms, stepping down to make the way for a new and younger generation instead of “hanging around for too long.” He gave the church one year’s notice that he would be stopping down.
The 70-year-old Hawkins isn’t finished being a witness for God, though, not by a long shot. He will take his evangelistic and encouraging style of preaching on revivals or being a supply preacher for whoever needs him.
But for Faith Baptist, now is the time for change, he said.
“We need some new ideas and new blood coming in,” Hawkins said. “We need someone from a new generation to come in. My generation is on the way out. I’ve watched preachers a lot of time, they stay too long, sometimes four or five years. It’s all about the church, all about Jesus.”
Hawkins has led Faith Baptist for 32 years and has gone through three major building projects, overseen more than 300 funerals and married hundreds. He told the church a year ago that this would be his last year, so they are more than prepared for the transition.
Todd Hatfield, a 41-year-old preacher from Hyden, Kentucky, will step into the pulpit at Faith Baptist on Aug. 18.
Not only will Faith Baptist be losing its longtime pastor but also its minister of music, who happens to be Hawkins’ wife, Kay, who is retiring, too. She has been faithfully by his side as not only his wife but partner in ministry.
“I’d say being a pastor’s wife is the worst position. God could put you in,” he said. “The church has loved her. She’s an asset. I’m one of the few preachers who can’t sing a lick but we have one of the best small choirs anywhere. Without her, it would have been impossible to be here 32 years. I truly think God put us together.”
His wife has seen her husband through colon cancer, another B-cell recurring cancer, a heart attack in 2004 and nine heart stents. Kay Hawkins understands “in sickness and in health.”
Everett said he has some pastor friends whose wives aren’t supportive. “I don’t know how they do it,” he said. “I don’t see how you can minister.”
The Hawkins have two daughters and three granddaughters. “If I’d known how this worked, I’d have him them first,” he joked.
Hawkins is a beloved pastor who “preaches God’s truth in love, which is kind of the essence of it.” He celebrated his 50th birthday in January 1999 with a new sanctuary, one of the three building projects. “That was my biggest blessing. A lot of members worked hard on that,” he said. “God always gave us someone.”
The church started as a mission from First Baptist in Frankfort in 1967 but has grown on its own. Hawkins said they average around 150 per Sunday and was running around 225 about a dozen years ago.
“It’s hard out there today,” he said. “Some people don’t believe that God exists. When I was growing up, even the infidels in the community believed there was a God, they were just not going to obey Him. We had a starting point at least.”
Hawkins said he tried to prepare the church for the inevitable transition of bringing in a new pastor. He plans on sticking around although many have told him it’s impossible.
“They also say it’s hard for a Southern Baptist preacher to be at the same church for 32 years,” he said.
And after all, Hawkins has already beaten much longer odds.