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First Baptist votes overwhelmingly to OK new pastor

John WilkersFirst Baptist Church Hammond. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

John Wilkerson of First Baptist Church in Hammond. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 15, 2013 6:22AM



HAMMOND — First Baptist Church voted to accept John Wilkerson as its new pastor Sunday evening.

The Sunday evening service was packed as 2,072 church members cast votes — 94.65 percent voted for Wilkerson. He needed to garner at least 75 percent to be accepted.

Wilkerson succeeds former church pastor Jack Schaap, who was fired from the church in July for “a sin that has caused him to forfeit his right to be our pastor. He plead guilty in September to taking a then-16-year-old girl in June and July into Illinois and Michigan for sexual relations. Wilkerson was in the middle of a service at First Baptist Church of Long Beach, where has been pastor since 2000, when he received the news. Wilkerson is a 1989 graduate of Hyles-Anderson College in Schererville, where he met his wife, Linda. They have nine children; their eldest son Tyler died in a car crash in 2008.

Voting started at the start of the service when deacons handed out ballots to church members 18 years old and older. Results were announced at the end of the service by Terry Duff, chairman of the church’s Board of Deacons.

Duff said he contacted Wilkerson Sunday night and Wilkerson said he was “excited” and would “come because I know God wants me to come.” Duff thanked interim pastor Eddie Lapina for his service since Schaap’s ouster.

Lapina addressed the church’s struggles, including layoffs, in his sermon by thanking church members for “being faithful.”

“I think God has taken the time the last five months to put First Baptist Church on a different road -- toward humility and he put us in our place,” Lapina said. “This church has never lost its faith in God. He could have destroyed this church five months ago, but he didn’t.”



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