Twenty-seven years ago, Ronald Reagan became president, Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated as the first woman on the Supreme Court and the Rev. Jerry Kennedy arrived at Foothills Community Church north of Spokane Valley.
”I never planned to stay anywhere that long,” said Kennedy, who is retiring as senior pastor at the end of the month. “It just seemed like a good fit. Then we got too old to move.”
Kennedy will be 65 in October, a milestone that helped contribute to his decision to retire and spend time with his wife of 45 years, Jan. “I really feel we have accomplished the ministry we were sent to do.” Now it’s time for someone younger with more energy and a fresh vision to take over,” he said.
“This has been a wonderful place to live. Great group of people.”
Brian Dedera, who has been pastor of family ministries at Foothills for 14 years, will be sorry to see Kennedy retire. “I would say it has been a delight for me to be able to work with him,” Dedera said. “It will be very hard to see him go.
“He’s very compassionate and giving of his time to people. When you talk to him, you know he really does care for you,” he said.
Dedera’s job at Foothills was his first as a pastor. “He really has showed me the ropes in ministry and really go me onto my feet,” Dedera said. “He’s been a very good mentor to me.”
Kennedy is associated with Village Missions, which provides pastors to rural churches and helps pay their salaries if the church is struggling financially. Foothills Community is able to have three full-time pastors on staff, Kennedy said, so Village Missions doesn’t contribute to their salaries. The church has about 350 members, down from a peak of about 400 a few years ago.
He started with Village Missions 38 years ago. He first worked as a teacher at Seattle Pacific College, then taught in public schools in Gig Harbor for three years. In 1968 he moved to Portland to attend the Multnomah School of the Bible and taught half-time in public schools. He served churches in two small towns in Oregon, Blodgett and Beaver, before coming to Foothills. “We’ve loved every place we’ve been,” he said.
In a sense his wife is also retiring, though she has not held a paid position. “She has taught the same Sunday school class for 26 years,” he said. “It’ll be a major change for her, too.”
Kennedy’s position will be taken over by the Rev. Richard Hayes. Kennedy knew him before he was selected to take over at Foothills, but not well.
“I’ve spent quite a bit of time with him since. We also have some mutual friends who think very, very highly of him.”
Kennedy and his wife will leave Foothills for a time to allow the new pastor to get settled in.
“The new pastor really needs to be able to bond with the people without me there,” he said. “I would feel very honored for them to love the new pastor as they have loved us.”
But he won’t leave for good. He found an old Sears catalog house nearby that was built in 1900 and will spend the next few months renovating it. Until the project is done, hopefully by Christmas, the Kennedys will be living in Spokane.
“We’re part of the boomerang generation,” he laughed. “We’ve moved back with Jan’s mom.”
When they feel it’s time, Kennedy and his wife will rejoin the congregation, but as members just like everyone else. He plans to keep busy by leading conferences for other Village Mission pastors and mentoring young pastors. He also would like to volunteer to lead funerals at a local funeral home. “I’ve always found that to be a fruitful ministry,” he said. “A lot of times, people don’t have a pastor.”
“I think he’s going to have a very good ministry after retirement,” Dedera said. “His faithfulness to God’s Word and his people over the years has really been an inspiration to me.”
Despite his plans to move on, Kennedy will always have a fondness for his remarkable tenure at Foothills. “We are really blessed,” he said. “As I look back over the years, God has been so good to us, far more than I ever expected or dreamed or imagined.”