Jackie Connell — Steadfast, loyal, and true

On the eve of his final Sunday as pastor of Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church, fellow men of the cloth acknowledge Connell’s 50 years in the ministry through love and laughter

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Michael Bennett [pastor of Antioch and succeeding Connell at Pleasant Hill in Alapaha, Georgia]

Brother Jackie has been a very influential person in my life. I have heard a lot of good preaching from him. As a young kid he was my pastor at Pleasant Hill. When I was a teenager and followed my girlfriend and eventual wife Dawn to St. Luke, Bro. Jackie was once again my pastor. He married Dawn and I in March 1988.

Seven years later he baptized me after I accepted Jesus Christ into my life. In 1996 following the birth of my daughter Sarah he officiated her dedication service. On September 20, 1997, he helped to ordain me as a deacon at St. Luke. Eight years later he helped ordain me into the ministry.

He has been very supportive to me in my walk with the Lord over the years and someone that I can get Godly advice from. I’ve got some big shoes to fill as I take over as pastor at Pleasant Hill, and I know Bro. Jackie will continue to support me. I love him very much.

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“Little” Garvie Nichols [pastor of St. Luke in Alapaha]

Mama [Waunell Nichols] wrote down in my baby book that Bro. Jackie was one of the first visitors to the hospital when I was born in 1971. And he was my first pastor. He helped ordain me in 1996.

When Pa-pa [Bro. Olem Bennett] and Granny [Audrey] moved back near us, a lot of nights Bro. Jackie and Ms. Brenda would be visiting at revivals. They’d swing by and pick up Pa-Pa and Granny and take them to church. As far as visiting the sick and shut-ins, you won’t find a better individual. When the folks at St. Luke are not doing well, he goes and visits them in the hospital or nursing home. He’s not just a pastor to the people at Pleasant Hill. Bro. Jackie is second to none.

When Pa-pa was pastor of Mora in the early ’80s, Bro. Jackie was running a revival. Me and my little brother Carl were there. Carl wasn’t even in school yet. A little toadie frog got loose in church. While the frog was hoppin’ across the church, Bro. Bobby Fussell’s nephew Mike caught the frog and turned it loose. Carl was asleep and didn’t know what was going on. After church, we were going out and shaking hands. Bro. Jackie was picking at Carl. He said, “Now Carl, did you let that frog loose in church?” Carl looked at him and replied, “Why? Did you smell it?”

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Freddie Stone [pastor of Pleasant Hill from 1991 to 1996]

Bro. Jackie and Sister Brenda are an inspiration to us. They have an excellent spirit and always make us feel welcome at Pleasant Hill. Brother Jackie’s experience of how God dealt with him when he had the flat tires on the way to the car race reminds me of the personal, transformative experience the apostle Paul had on the road to Damascus.

It is always a pleasure to have a conversation with Bro. Jackie. The love and care he has shown for Pleasant Hill plus being so faithful to visit the hospital and nursing homes is something I strive to emulate every day. May God bless you.

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Bobby Fussell [pastor of Mt. Pleasant in Pearson, Georgia]

Bro. Jackie has been more than a brother to me. I appreciate him for what he stands for as well as preaching the Word at Pleasant Hill for as long as he has. I know he’s gone through a lot, but he’s a good man. What we need to do is to keep praying for him. We just take one day at a time and hope for a better tomorrow.

Me and Bro. Jackie have always been close, and Patricia and Sister Brenda are, too. We can talk in contrast to a lot of other people that you just can’t get next to. We still call one another every two or three weeks and just cut up. I’ll say, “How you’re doing?” And he’ll always tell me, “I’m pretty and good. And I still ain’t too old to cut the mustard!”

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Terrell Roberts [a former deacon at Pleasant Hill who pastors Tift Avenue in Tifton, Georgia]

Me and Jackie went fishing to Martin’s Pond one time. We fished and fished with no luck, and I told Jackie, “You’re not gonna catch anything today ’cause the signs of the almanac said fish are in the mouth.” He kept fishing and to reckly he caught one right in the tail end of his fins. He pulled that fish in and said, “Well, I reckon you were right because his mouth couldn’t bite my bait so he just slapped it with his tail!”

One time Glenda and I went on vacation with Jackie and Brenda to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Jackie was leading the way and got lost. He said, “Well, I reckon you know that we’ve all got lost.” I told him, “No, Jackie, I didn’t get lost. I was just following you!”

I am the right opposite of Bro. Jackie in some ways. He would be over washing his truck, and I’d be gettin’ mine dirty. His son Greg is just like I am. He’d never wash his and would have tools and stuff thrown everywhere. Just junked out. I said, “Jackie, now that goes to show you…all of us are not bad ’cause we don’t keep a clean car!”

I ain’t even got a serious bone in my body. But we’d sit down and talk…and cry a lot of times about our problems. Jackie gave me some good advice when I went into the ministry. He said, “The thing about it is, when you start preaching, you can’t have any real close friends because everybody will get jealous and mad.”

Jackie got ordained in 1970 and started preaching at Pine Ridge. The next year he also went to Pleasant Hill. Church was only held at Pleasant Hill on 2nd and 4th Sundays — Pine Ridge was on 1st and 3rd so we could go back and forth to churches.

I’ll never forget the first Sunday Jackie started preaching at Pine Ridge. He stepped into the pulpit and just went blank. He had nothing to say. He had planned out the sermon too much instead of depending on God to plan it. I saw Jackie kneel down behind the pulpit and begin praying. Then the Lord gave him the right message.

Jackie got saved a lot earlier than I did. We were all going to church together at Belmont in Tifton the day I got saved on September 29, 1968. Jackie never pushed me, but he knew the Lord was dealing with me.

I found out I couldn’t lose anything by getting saved. It’s gonna be rough if you don’t try to follow the Lord’s Word. People a lot of times do not stop and realize that death is coming. Judgment is coming. There’s no way to get around those two. I tell people in a nice way, “I’m doing what God called me to do. It ain’t because I wanted to — I ran for awhile until I answered God’s call. The Lord put a love in my heart for mankind, and that’s true.”

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© Jeremy Roberts, 2018. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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