Hundreds of people who cannot imagine Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute without Ken Ridings gathered in the chapel named for Ridings to honor him as he prepares to retire Dec. 31 after 40 years at Fruitland, including the last 11 as president.
“I just cannot imagine Fruitland without Kenneth Ridings,” said Greg Mathis, Ridings’ pastor at Mud Creek Baptist Church. Mathis said Ridings is the “face of Fruitland,” and that “his influence is the force behind the reputation we have.”
“No other man lives with more integrity or more impeccable character than Kenneth Ridings,” said Mathis, also Fruitland professor of evangelism.
Fruitland Board Chair George Cagle, who also is on the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Executive Committee, announced that the Convention was giving Ridings the 2008 Toyota Highlander he is driving as a fleet vehicle. Other gifts were given by faculty, alumni and friends, including a diamond bracelet to Ridings’ wife, Ann.
Cagle listed changes on the Fruitland campus under Ridings’ leadership, including completion of a new library, renovation and enlargement of the chapel/classroom building, beautification of campus and improvements in dormitories.
Gratitude was awarded Mrs. Ridings for leading Ridings to faith in Christ when they were dating. They have been married 55 years.
Mathis’ wife, Deborah, said of Mrs. Ridings that she has been a confidante, counselor and matchmaker to Fruitland students. Mrs. Ridings recognized the special needs of student wives and started a pastor’s wives retreat and recently organized a marriage retreat, Mrs. Mathis said.
Ridings, pastor for 22 years at Grassy Branch Baptist Church while teaching homiletics, did not start well at Fruitland. He led his first course in church administration, a subject in which he was no expert. The mere mention of it in public places elicits chuckles.
He tried to resign after one year but was convinced instead to accept the newly vacant teaching position in homiletics and there he found a home for decades.
Mathis said, to much laughter, that Ridings’ scripture exposition is “legendary, as is the length of your sermons.”
Milton A. Hollifield Jr., BSC executive director-treasurer, said, “The Convention has been blessed by Kenneth Ridings’ preaching, teaching, leadership and service.” He noted that Ridings was a vice president of the BSC when Mathis was president and said, “They worked together during a tumultuous time to bring peace.”
“You can complete your work here with great confidence that God has used you in making Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute a better place,” Hollifield said.
Huford Cash, 86, who Ridings considers his father in the ministry, said Ridings “may be leaving as president of this school, but I promise you he’ll always remain a pillar under this school.”
Ridings expressed appreciation for Ann’s leading him to Christ on May 25, 1953. He said of Ann, who also sang a solo during the recognition service, “We can’t remember whether we were married first or were born first. We’ve been married a long time, but not long enough,”
When Ridings told his mother that he felt called to preach, he said she felt that if God called her son to preach, He called, “the most backward, bashful young man I’ve ever known.”
Ridings cemented his legendary reputation for sermon length with his remarks, and chided a chuckling audience to be patient, “this is only going to happen once.”
He thanked family, friends, faculty, students, Hollifield and the Convention staff and promised “to be a proponent of Fruitland as long as I live.”
He included the signature statement that reveals his heart for Fruitland when he said, “You can go to heaven from many places. But when you go to heaven from Fruitland, you don’t notice the difference as much.”