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City dedicates Legacy bench to Rev. Hancock

Posted: October 16, 2017 5:24 p.m.
Updated: October 17, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

The plaque affixed to a Leaders Legacy Bench dedicated Oct. 6 to the Rev. Bruce Hancock, recently retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Camden.

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It was, as Camden City Manager Mel Pearson pointed out, a beautiful day Oct. 6 for a special honor: the dedication of a Leaders Legacy bench to the Rev. Bruce Hancock, who retired in April after 25 years as the pastor of First Baptist Church of Camden.

“Your influence, your spiritual guidance for this community has been very important for many years,” Pearson said to begin the program. “It reaches far beyond the walls of God’s First Baptist Church of Camden. We are grateful for that influence you have had on many of us, myself included.”

Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford spoke briefly about the Leaders Legacy program before talking a little about Hancock.

“Rev. Hancock, I want you to know that you will never retire being a minister, because someone is always after you, there’s always something to be done and when that’s not in place, well, if they need a volunteer, ‘Well, call Rev. Hancock; he’s retired, he’s got nothing to do,’” Drakeford joked. “So, you might be retired from the pulpit for a little while, but you will become more and more involved and we thank you for your dedication.

“Hopefully, those who are in heaven are looking down and saying, ‘What a man!’”

City Councilman Stephen Smoak, who served as the council sponsor for Hancock’s bench, said the dedication had a lot of personal significance to him.

“We are recognizing the person who performed my wedding ceremony, who prayed over my four newborn children as they were born and who also baptized several of them,” Smoak said. To further show that, there are a quite a few of you who know he is a big Clemson fan, right? And I lot of you know that I’m -- not so much a Clemson fan. To the extent that I have one orange item of clothing in my entire closet, so this morning, when I went to pick out my tie, Pastor Bruce, it was given as a gift to me a few years ago, but I wore this just for you.”

“You look handsome in it,” Hancock called back, to which Smoak expressed his thanks.

Smoak went on to talk about Hancock’s contributions to the community, especially through the church.

“Bruce recognized the church’s role as well outside those walls … the four walls of the buildings there on Broad Street. He made sure that First Baptist Church was active in the community through various outreach efforts,” Smoak said.

He listed Habitat for Humanity, with at least four homes being built in Camden, as a result of the church’s participation as one example.

“This is significant because when we look around and see what’s going on in our country and around the world, while we’re not immune to problems here in Camden -- I’m certainly not suggesting that for a minute -- we have largely avoided a lot of the significant conflict that you see in other places,” he said. “I would contend that is in no small part to the strong foundation of our churches here, of which First Baptist of Camden has played a major role.”

Smoak ended by pointing out that even with retirement, Hancock and his wife, Pat, have elected to stay in Camden as active members of the community. He also pointed out, however, that could have something to do with the fact that his four grandchildren live here as well.

Charles “Les” Addis, who served as the chair of the search committee which called Hancock to Camden, said that Hancock’s total service to the ministry spans 43 years.

“I don’t think he’s done yet. He’s going to continue to serve the Lord,” Addis said, adding that he was thinking of Bruce and Pat Hancock as a team when he thought about what to say Oct. 6.

He said Hancock’s Leaders Legacy bench is well placed in Rectory Square, facing the park’s playground equipment.

“There’s a great place for Pastor Bruce to sit and watch those grandchildren play,” Addis said. “And I’m going to go one step farther: How about we say (you’re) going to sit there and watch your great-grandchildren play someday. When these other children grow up, they will see this bench with that name and they will remember Pastor Bruce and Pat and it’ll be a great thing in their memory what they did in this community.”

Addis went on to list some of Hancock’s milestones during his 25 years as pastor at First Baptist:

• Longest-serving pastor in the 207-year history of the church.

• More than 9,000 days as the church’s pastor.

• More than 5,000 sermons.

• More than 700 funerals.

“I don’t know about you all, but one thing I’ve noticed since Pastor Bruce retired, I don’t think we have as many people passing away now as we used to. I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that folks are saying, ‘If Pastor Bruce isn’t here to do my funeral, I’m just not going to go,’” Addis joked.

Continuing in the same vein, Addis said he told Hancock that while he doesn’t plan on dying any time soon, when he does, he wants Hancock to serve at his funeral.

“He said, ‘Les, tell me when it’s going to be so I can put it on my calendar now,’” Addis said.

He also said that Hancock has performed many weddings with no complaints from the brides.

“And even more importantly, with no complaints from the mothers of the brides,” he said.

Addis then talked about working on the search committee to bring Hancock to Camden. He said congregants said they were looking for a pastor who was a “dynamic preacher” and who would “love them and love the Lord” -- things, Addis said, they got in Bruce Hancock.

“None of us ever thought to ask for a pastor who would know every one of us by name, and the thing I love so much is he knows the children by name,” Addis said. “None of ever thought to ask for a pastor with as wonderful a wife as Pat. None of us thought to ask for a pastor who would stay with us for 25 years when the normal tenure for a pastor is three and a half years.”

Addis further listed adding many new members, celebrating with the community for the church’s 200th anniversary, giving supplies to many organizations, reaching out to other countries, completing the largest building project in the church’s history, and becoming debt free as among the many accomplishments First Baptist has reached under Hancock as pastor.

Former Kershaw County Council Chairman Steve Kelly Jr. followed Addis, saying Hancock has had a positive effect on many people from children to youth to adults.

“It has certainly resonated in our community … and what a wonderful, wonderful gift that you do have,” Kelly said, referring to Hancock’s ability to deliver sermons. “As you know, First Baptist has a very large membership and he always took that responsibility and we were blessed because he always took it with grace and dignity.”

Kelly said First Baptist’s outreach, children’s, youth and adult ministries all expanded under Hancock’s leadership.

“He’s been a great ambassador for First Baptist Church as well as a spiritual leader for our community,” he said.

Personally, Kelly said Hancock has been there for many milestones in their lives. He said he asked his children for their thoughts on Hancock. Kelly said he children described Hancock as a “real pastor” and “counselor” -- someone who has touched the lives of people they don’t even know.

On a lighter note, Kelly said Hancock’s hobbies and pastimes are golfing, singing, eating ice cream and, of course, Clemson sports.

He ended his remarks by wishing Hancock a long and healthy retirement and conferred upon him the title of “pastor emeritus.”

Former County Councilman Gene McCaskill called Hancock a beloved pastor and friend and that it had been a privilege to be a member of his congregation.

“I looked up several things about ‘legacy’ and one said it’s what you leave behind,” McCaskill said. “And what you’ve left behind is us. I think that Bruce, early on, when he felt called to the ministry, committed himself in a way that we can’t fully appreciate.”

He then read a poem called “The Mirror” that speaks to the idea that the person whose opinion matters most is the one you see in the mirror, especially if you can call that person your friend.

“Bruce looked in that glass, looked in that mirror and decided with this call to the ministry, he didn’t want to see him(self), he wanted to see Jesus,” McCaskill said.

He told Hancock that it must be affirming to see that the church and its ministry goes on because he instilled in the church a desire and passion to continue that work.

Hancock received a standing ovation when he came to the podium to speak. He thanked council and everyone involved in the Legacy bench dedication.

“I’m deeply humbled by the kind words that have been spoken,” Hancock said. “In fact, I feel a little bit like the woman who was sitting in church at the funeral for her husband who asks her son to check and make sure that the man in the casket is his father.”

He said he did none of his work by himself and is indebted to many others, including the congregation of First Baptist Church, the citizens of Camden and Kershaw County, and to his family, especially his wife.

“(She) is a better person and a better Christian than I will ever be. I owe my undying love for the strength she has given me and the inspiration she has been to me,” Hancock said.

He also thanked God, saying he owes Him everything.

“By pointing people to Him and by ministering to the needs of people in His name, I hope I have helped make Camden a better place,” Hancock said. “I pray that my legacy is one of faithfulness to God, love for people and changed hearts in those whose lives I’ve touched. And I hope that, one day, as they sit on this bench, my four grandsons will say, ‘Our Poppy served and followed and honored God with his life.”

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