Longtime pastor quits at Pullen Memorial

Staff WriterSeptember 16, 2009 

— The Rev. Jack McKinney, co-pastor of the city's pre-eminent liberal congregation, announced in a letter to congregants Tuesday that he was stepping down.

McKinney, who has served at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church for nearly 10 years, wrote that he felt he needed to quit.

"There is nothing going on in my personal or professional life that is forcing me to leave," he wrote. "I simply know in my soul that it is time for me to stop doing vocational ministry."

The Rev. Nancy Petty, the church's co-pastor, will continue as the church's pastor. In January, the congregation will review whether it wants to continue with a dual pastoral position.

McKinney, who championed the role of women as pastors and was a powerful voice for the right of gays and lesbians to marry, had returned from a three-month sabbatical on Sept. 1.

He was feeling buoyant and energetic. But while attending a church meeting, he said he heard a voice within saying, "You know you need to go."

McKinney followed in a long line of pastors who rallied for an end to segregation and the war in Vietnam. The congregation is known far beyond Raleigh as a maverick church, willing to take stands on controversial issues. It was expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention for agreeing to hold a gay-union ceremony in 1992.

"He followed incredibly big shoes, and to his credit he made a name for himself," said Cathy Tamsberg, minister of outreach and adult education.

McKinney formed Congregations for Social Justice, a group that met monthly to figure out ways to end homelessness and expand affordable housing options. He also helped the congregation build a $3.7 million addition that takes green technology further than any other North Carolina congregation.

His biggest legacy, however, may be his decision seven years ago to share the role of pastor with Petty, the associate minister and a lesbian. McKinney and Petty combined their salaries and split them in two.

"It turned out to be, in my judgment, one of the best decisions the church has made in a long time," said Roger Crook, a longtime Pullen member.

McKinney, who is 44, said he had no immediate plans. His wife, KaKi, and their two children, who are in high school, will remain in Raleigh.

yonat.shimron@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4891

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