Pictured Above: Bernice Kirkland served alongside her pastor-husband, Ezra L. Kirkland Jr., until he passed away in 2010. He preached from 1945-2010 in churches across Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. She received a 13th check from Florida Baptists’ Retired Shepherd’s Fund this year. Shown here (left to right are): Ezra and Bernice Kirkland in the early days of their ministry (photo on left) and Rick Wheeler, president and CEO of Florida Baptist Financial Services; Bernice Kirkland and Aaron Meraz, director of Mission:Dignity (photo on right).
JACKSONVILLE–Bernice Kirkland served alongside her pastor-husband until he passed away in 2010. Her late husband, Ezra L. Kirkland Jr., preached from 1945-2010 in churches across Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
And because of the faithful giving and generosity of Florida Baptists, Kirkland will receive an extra blessing this month.
Mission:Dignity, a resource ministry of GuideStone, serves more than 2,500 individuals each year with money needed for housing, food and medication. Often, this extra assistance enables many retirement-age Southern Baptist ministers, workers and widows to continue serving the Lord.
Through this ministry, more than $9 million is distributed annually, ensuring a well-deserved dignity and independence to those who have served faithfully in local churches across the nation.
Of the 2,700 individuals receiving assistance each year, approximately 60% of the recipients are like Kirkland–widows. One out of four is a pastor’s widow age 85 or older.
Close to home
During the annual Florida Baptist Convention Board of Trustees meeting in March, FBFS announced the completion of the sale of the Florida Baptist Retirement Center. By repositioning the funds from the sale and creating the Florida Baptist Retired Shepherd’s Fund, FBFS was able to honor the original intent of the retirement center, which was to help retiring Florida Baptist pastors who have faithfully served the Lord.
“Once we prayerfully made the decision to sell, we began looking for the right partner to continue the ministry in Vero, and the Lord answered our prayer,” said Rick Wheeler, FBFS president and CEO.
Through the Florida Baptist Retired Shepherd’s Fund, FBFS is able to partner with GuideStone’s Mission:Dignity to provide an extra check – a 13th check – to recipients in the Sunshine State beginning this month, and every year following.
Florida is among 10 states to offer such a partnership between Mission:Dignity and state conventions.
The 13th check will provide extra resources at the end of each year to around 250 Mission:Dignity recipients who have served Florida Baptist churches for at least 10 years.
Wheeler said Mission:Dignity and the Retired Shepherd’s Fund are a natural channel to provide aid to those who deserve the highest honor.
“We stand on the shoulders of these wonderful heroes of the faith who have faithfully served churches across Florida,” he said. “What a joy it is to help meet their needs. May we be found faithful in our generation as they were in theirs.”
“We estimate that the newly established Florida Baptist Retired Shepherd’s Fund will distribute over $2.5 million to retired Florida Baptist pastors and their widows over the next 10 years,” said Wheeler.
For those like Kirkland, it reminds them their Southern Baptist family has not forgotten their service to the Lord and His local church. Kirkland expressed her overwhelming gratitude to be part of the Mission:Dignity family.
“Mission:Dignity has been such a blessing especially since Ezra, my husband, went home to be with our Lord Jesus Christ in 2010,” said Kirkland. “It has supported my needs many, many times! I am eternally grateful to God for helping me through Mission:Dignity.”
“These pastors and others we serve are truly deserving of a double honor,” said Aaron Meraz, director of Mission:Dignity. “Thanks to the efforts of so many, those we are privileged to serve will be receiving this blessing.”