GREENVILLE, S.C. (BP) — James Rudy Gray, a pastor, writer and Christian counselor with roots in journalism, has been named the 11th editor and president of the Baptist Courier, the official newspaper of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Gray, 59, was elected unanimously by members of the Courier’s board of trustees at their fall meeting in Greenville, S.C., on Sept. 7.
He will succeed Don Kirkland, 68, who announced in March that he will retire at the end of 2012, capping a 38-year career with South Carolina Baptists’ denominational newspaper. Kirkland has served as editor and president since March 1996.
Randy Harling, pastor of First Baptist Church of Simpsonville, S.C., and chairman of the Courier’s board of trustees, called Gray a “visionary leader” who will take the reins of the Courier at a time when traditional support structures for denominational entities are undergoing fundamental change.
In November 2011, South Carolina Baptists adopted a Great Commission Resurgence report that channels more funds to international missions and church planting and revitalization while significantly decreasing funding to the SCBC’s seven in-state institutions, including the Courier.
Harling said Gray, a former state convention president, is “well-known among pastors and leaders … and is knowledgeable about the Courier,” and that his leadership ability will be “what’s required in the future” as the Courier seeks to redefine its role in serving the churches of the convention.
“We just kept being drawn back to him,” Harling said, speaking for the five-member search committee he headed. “The spiritual aspect was evident from the beginning,” he said, and the search committee felt Gray was “a natural fit” for the Courier.
Gray, who has served as pastor of Utica Baptist Church in Seneca since November 1994, said he is “humbled and grateful for the call of God to serve the Baptists of South Carolina through The Baptist Courier.”
“It is my prayer that the Courier can be a blessing to more and more of our Baptist family,” he said. The Courier has a “solid past” with “many loyal and faithful readers,” he said, but noted that journalism has “changed drastically.”
“The Courier can be a great resource for the church and for individual Baptists in the future,” he said. “Our online presence can become more diversified and powerful. We will not neglect the print edition, but will try to create an enhanced Courier that encompasses additional delivery systems under the banner of Christian journalism.”
While a student at Anderson University, Gray was sports editor for the yearbook and the campus newspaper and was later editor for the paper. He also worked as a sports writer for the Anderson Independent, a daily general-circulation newspaper, while a student at Anderson and later at the University of South Carolina.
“My career path was set in journalism until God answered a prayer,” Gray said, “and I changed my major from journalism to Bible and transferred to Southern Wesleyan.”
But Gray said he never lost his “thirst” for journalism throughout his ministry. At his ordination service, the director of missions for Saluda Association, J.C. Rice, advised him never to stop writing, he said.
When he was a student at Anderson, Gray became friends with Don Kirkland, who was working in the college’s communications office before he would later accept a job at the Courier.
“We have maintained that friendship over all these years,” Gray said. “Near my graduation, Don gave me a book, ‘Memoirs,’ by Arthur Krock. I have kept that book — not because of the content, but because of the inscription he wrote in the front: ‘To my friend in the 4th estate: Before you write ’30’ [the journalist’s notation signaling the conclusion of a story] to your life, I hope that you will find fulfillment and that you will be able to inscribe ‘no regrets’ at the end. Your friendship will always be one of my proudest possessions.’
“Now I have the privilege to succeed my friend as editor of the Courier. This is where I would like to complete my ministry,” Gray said. “It is ironic that I started out in journalism, and I could be finishing there.”
Kirkland said his successor “knows the South Carolina Baptist Convention from the inside out” and that the Courier and the SCBC will benefit from his “involvement in the life of the denomination ever since he graduated from college.”
“His proven service as a pastor and convention leader and solid background as a journalist make him an excellent choice for the editorship of the Courier,” Kirkland said.
Gray said he looks forward to traveling the state as editor and that he welcomes invitations to preach. “I want to assure pastors that if I’m invited to preach, I will preach the Word, not the Courier,” he said, adding it is his desire to “connect more churches to the ministry of the Courier through our common acceptance of God’s infallible Word and our commitment to all aspects of the Great Commission.”
Gray described his ministry as a pastor, preacher, counselor and writer as “full,” and said he sees his new responsibility as Courier editor as “a calling from God.”
“I want to be faithful to Him in that calling,” he said. “There are new and exciting things that will be developing at the Courier. Building from the past toward the future in a way that glorifies God and helps His people will be a major theme,” he said.
“I really want the Courier to be the best that it can be,” he added. “With the support of South Carolina Baptists, we can make that a reality.”
Gray asked that South Carolina Baptists pray for him and his wife, Anne.
In addition to Anderson University, Gray is a graduate of Southern Wesleyan University and Luther Rice Seminary, where he earned master of theology and doctor of ministry degrees. He is also a graduate of Liberty University with a master of arts in counseling and has taken post-graduate courses at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He previously served as pastor of Roebuck Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Central, and Unity Baptist Church in Starr — all in South Carolina.
He was elected president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 2009 and is a past board member and chairman for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He served two five-year terms on the Courier’s board of trustees in the 1990s and was serving on the board at the time of his election as editor.
He is an adjunct professor at Anderson University, teaching in the school of Christian studies, and is a past trustee of the university.
Gray is a 23-year member of the National Board for Certified Counselors and is certified by the International Board of Christian Counselors. He serves as a counseling referral resource for Focus on the Family and has led marriage enrichment seminars at churches and other locations.
He is the author of four books: “Will the Real Pastor Please Stand Up,” “Worry: The Silent Killer,” “Jude: The Alarm Has Sounded,” and “Marriage That Works Is Work” and has been a columnist for The Baptist Courier and for Disciple magazine (formerly Pulpit Helps magazine) since 2000.
Gray is married to Anne Black Gray, who recently retired after teaching high-school algebra since 1996. The couple has three married daughters and one grandchild.
Trustees serving on the search committee, in addition to Harling, were: Brad Bardin, vice chairman and pastor of First Baptist Church, Williamston; Seth Buckley, executive committee member and minister to students at First Baptist Church, Spartanburg; Virginia Johnston, secretary and member of First Baptist Church, North Charleston; and Fred Stone, executive committee member and pastor of First Baptist Church, Pickens.
Butch Blume is managing editor of the Baptist Courier, online at http://www.baptistcourier.com .