Originally created 08/01/98

In the father's footsteps



Dr. H.K. McKnight lifted the microphone to his lips. "I may be 66, but I've got some life in me," he told the congregation of the church he founded, Bible Deliverance Temple.

It's enough life, he told them, that on an upcoming trip he'll be able to ride mountain rapids with the youth group, troop around Six Flags and then drive back the same night. "I'm supposed to preach the next morning," he said, turning to look at his son, Dr. Kelly McKnight, manning the keyboard behind him. "But I'm telling you now -- you've got it," he told his son.

The remark swelled the Harrisburg community church with a burst of laughter. The younger man, associate pastor at Bible Deliverance, shares the pulpit with his father.

The idea of a father-son pastoral team emerged about two years ago.

"I did not want (the appointment) to be the cause of any conflict or friction," said the elder Dr. McKnight, who founded the nondenominational, charismatic church 35 years ago. The church began with about 25 members and numbers more than 500 today.

The McKnights left the decision about the associate pastor's job to the church. The board and then the congregation voted overwhelmingly for the younger Dr. McKnight to take it.

Having both McKnights at the church has been exciting, said George Webb, a member for 25 years and resident evangelist. "They work well together."

Sharing pastoral duties has its benefits as well as stresses. "I'm proud of his ministry," said the father. "But I've got my ways. I've been at it a long time. He is the next generation and has his ways. I guess we will get it all blended one of these days."

The McKnights' major plan now is a project across Eve Street from the church. Bible Deliverance will break ground this month for a new building for youth. The first program will be for latch-key children, said the elder Dr. McKnight.

The younger minister said working with his dad makes him a little self-conscious. Whatever he does affects the church but it also affects his father. When there are differences, he talks to his father privately, he said. "If anything I love the aspect that I'm helping to carry on the vision that God gave him," he said.

The father had some serious health problems about three years ago, and it seemed time to get another minister to help out.

Dr. Kelly McKnight, 46, asked a friend to consider the job but was told he should consider taking it himself.

The younger minister grew up around Bible Deliverance. He felt a call to the ministry at 12. When he was a teen-ager, he and other teens from the church traveled in a gospel singing group giving concerts. The Rev. Bryan Cockrell, pastor at New Hope Church of God, and Becky Ginn Coward, choir director at Bible Deliverance, were among those in the group.

After a stint with the Marines in Vietnam, he worked with praise and worship teams at various churches, but he fought going into the ministry. Instead he worked in sales.

His call, however, caught up with him in a hospital. He was admitted to the Veterans Administration Medical Center for post-traumatic stress disorder around Thanksgiving 1991. Christmas came and went. One of the nurses noticed he was feeling sorry for himself. She suggested he play some carols on the piano for the other patients. It was something he could do that many couldn't, she said.

"That really shook me up," he said. "God dealt with me to pay less attention to myself and more to him and others." He recommitted his life to the Lord.

He pursued his education, eventually earning a doctorate in ministry from Logos Christian College and Graduate Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., as his father had earlier. "I am happier and have more joy than I (ever) have had in my life," he said.

The story of the prodigal son is a recurring theme in his preaching. "I have come back, and not many people are afforded that opportunity," he said. "God worked a miracle."

The two divide preaching and teaching duties. "He has been a tremendous help to me at the hospitals and with the seriously ill," said the father. If a member faced surgery, the father stayed with the person from before surgery till afterward, but now his son does some of that, he said.

Dr. Kelly McKnight is also minister of music at Bible Deliverance. His grandfather, Willie J. McKnight, directed music at the church earlier."My father was a loom fixer," said Dr. H.K. McKnight. After retirement, he left Columbia, moved to Augusta and lived in a house next door to Bible Deliverance. He led the music for a year or two.

The McKnights were mill-hill people, just like the people in the Harrisburg community around Bible Deliverance. Textile companies would establish plants in an area, build houses, stores and recreation for the workers. In Columbia, where the McKnights lived, the mill town had a YMCA, picture shows, a medical dispensary, bowling alleys and parks. The workers were as close-knit as an extended family, said Dr. H.K. McKnight. "We prided ourselves on singing, 'We are a bunch of lintheads, lintheads are we.' "

Like his son, he was in a gospel singing group growing up. After all-night sings, they would go home and sing some more, he said.

His road to the ministry was rather short -- he was a teen-age preacher.When he was 14, he won the Optimists Club oratorical competition in Columbia and then the North and South Carolina district contest. He represented the district in international competition in Denver. He won again in Columbia the next year and the following year, at age 16, he again competed in international competition, this time in San Francisco. After his return, he started preaching. "I'd preach like my coattails were on fire for 10 minutes and then sit down," he said.

A woman who heard him suggested a woman minister friend of hers invite him to give a revival. "Of course she knew that she had a daughter," he said with a laugh.

The daughter played piano in her mother's church. "We started going together, and I stayed in their home until we got married. (Margaret) had just turned 16, and I was 17, not quite 18," he said.

Their wedding was 48 years ago at Langley Church of God. Mrs. McKnight has been Bible Deliverance's organist for 35 years.

Bible Deliverance celebrated their wedding anniversary, his 50 years in the ministry and the founding of the church 35 years ago on July 26.

It was a time to celebrate the life of the church and the life of its pastor, a man who thought he wanted to die three years ago.

After enduring heart problems, a stroke, kidney stones and gall bladder trouble over the years, a change in medication brought him low. "I was in a place in my life that if God wasn't going to restore me and heal me, I really wanted to die," he said.

He called his family together. He knew God was either going to touch him or take him away. The family began sharing, and God's power came over him, he said.

"God put this chorus in my spirit," he told the congregation at Bible Deliverance. He lifted the microphone and sang in a fine baritone voice with a joy that came from a love of singing and of life. "I want to spend my life/mending broken people/I want to spend my life/removing pain."

That was the turnaround for him. After a three-month absence from the pulpit, he was back the next Sunday.

Later, a physician friend resolved the problem with the medication, he said. "God touched me, but the other still had to be because it had brought on the problem," he said. "If God had been through with me and ready for me to go, I'd be shouting in heaven today," he said.