PRINCETON, Ky. (KT) — Rick Hillard accepted the call to pastor First Baptist Church in Princeton on March 8, but his arrival on the church field encountered an unexpected delay.
The coronavirus pandemic erupted days later, resulting in a stay-at-home order in Kentucky, which prevented a move from Bloomington, Ind., to Princeton. He and his wife, Michelle, faced a 14-day self-quarantine if they moved, plus the obstacles of concluding the sale of their home and purchasing a home in Princeton.
The Hillards arrived in Princeton on Monday of this week after obtaining the go-ahead from Kentucky state government to enter the commonwealth without having to quarantine. Monday was spent setting up his office at the church.
The Hillards are hopeful of closing on their Indiana home and closing on a home in Princeton on June 1. Despite the unanticipated delay, Hillard said, “God is working things out.”
Although being 219 miles from Princeton during the past two months, Hillard found an effective way to connect with the church and his new community through Facebook Live sessions. He also conducted Sunday worship services virtually.
“I had to decide how I could minister to the congregation while not being present,” Hillard recalled. He started an 8 a.m. ‘Coffee with Pastor Rick’ daily on Facebook, often with his wife, Michelle, seated beside him. He spends 10 minutes doing “a little bit of everything.” That has resulted in several hundred people watching on a daily basis.
“I think that created a wonderful opportunity for us, the congregation and the community. I have had a countless number of interactions with people as a result. Those helped introduce me (to people in Princeton).”
Hillard has an ambitious schedule for reopening the church. “We’ll probably meet May 20, and our first Sunday to open will probably be May 24. We’re talking about that.”
In order to heed social distancing guidelines, the church will meet in its sanctuary, but will have an overflow room in its Christian Life Center. That combination will accommodate 400 people, although Hillard said he expects some people will be reluctant to return that early because of health concerns.
Hillard has served in denominational work the past four years with the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana as team leader for missional support. “I was involved with any connect-type ministry — one of which was evangelism, which is my passion and heartbeat.”
Going from statewide work in Indiana to a town the size of Princeton is enticing for Hillard. “I felt God release me from my ministry at the state convention. The demographics here are what we were looking for. There’s a small-town feel in a decent-size church. We hope to have a highly evangelistic regional church. First Baptist has been without a pastor for over a year, so the first thing is to bring a sense of stability to the church.”
Though his past ministry assignment was in Indiana, he is well acquainted with Kentucky. He was born in southern Indiana, but his parents are from the Beaver Dam area. His ministry education took him to Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville and Mid-Continent University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1995. He earned master’s of theology and doctor of theology degrees from Andersonville Theological Seminary in Georgia.