Worshippers at Fort Lauderdale’s Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church offered prayers Sunday for the full recovery of the Rev. D. James Kennedy, the church’s charismatic leader.
Kennedy, 76, an icon of the Christian conservative movement, was rushed to the hospital Thursday night after suffering a heart attack. His condition, initially seen as grave, has been showing improvement, church leaders told the congregation.
“The doctors are amazed,” said Mary Anne Bunker, Kennedy’s longtime assistant, after the 11:15 a.m. service. “It’s the power of prayer.”
With 10,000 church members and millions of people in nearly 200 nations tuning in to his TV and radio broadcasts, Kennedy no doubt has a large group praying for his recovery.
Bunker said concerned followers from as far as Africa have called the church for updates on his condition.
“It’s just awesome,” she said. “He has reached all over the world.”
Bunker, 72, started working for Kennedy in 1964, back when the church had a roster of about 600 members. Like most Coral Ridge members, she credits Kennedy with inspiring her to become a born-again Christian.
“He is very persuasive, you know,” she said.
Kennedy, a onetime tango instructor, entered the ministry in 1959. He began preaching to a 45-member congregation in the cafeteria of McNab Elementary School in Pompano Beach and was paid $4,800 a year.
By the mid-1970s, Coral Ridge had become one of America’s firstmega-churches with more than 3,000 members.
That was when Skip Sigh, 66, an insurance agent from Pompano Beach, first met Kennedy. Sigh’s mother had recently died and he wandered into the church looking for answers.
No matter how many people lined up, Kennedy took as much time as necessary to answer his questions, Sigh said.
The minister’s message–that eternal life is assured to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ–changed Sigh’s life.
“I guess what I was looking for was assurance,” Sigh said.
Outside the church, Kennedy is controversial for his outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, stem-cell research and the teaching of evolution.
But within the Coral Ridge community, Kennedy is a beloved figure.
Former church member Aina Carlson, 66, of Jupiter, drove down for services after learning of his condition.
“We’re very saddened,” said Carlson, whose family belonged to the church while living in Plantation. “He’s been instrumental in guiding us in our Christian growth.”
“He’s impacted all of our lives,” said Paul Mattox, of Boca Raton. Mattox, a church elder, joined Coral Ridge in 1981 after hearing Kennedy on the radio.
Mattox said Kennedy asks his followers to “go beyond just being pew sitters.”
“He’s one of the most intelligent, compassionate and loving men that I have ever met,” he said. “It’s a joy to serve him.”