Upstate South Carolina is familiar territory for the Rev. Dr. Stephen Cannon, most recently with Locust Hill Baptist Church, in Travelers Rest, and the minister is now getting a fast-paced introduction to Aiken as Millbrook Baptist Church's new senior pastor.
The pastor's educational background includes a doctorate of ministry from North Greenville University. He is also a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Erskine College and Dorman High School, with First Baptist Church of Spartanburg having been his home congregation.
"Initially, I was studying to be a medical doctor. I went to Erskine College to do medicine, and actually, my undergrad's in pre-med, and the Lord changed my path. I knew after graduating that that wasn't the road I was supposed to be on," he recalled.
"I actually worked in the insurance industry for about eight years before I got into the ministry. I was serving with senior adults, doing retirement planning and different things like that ... January of 2004 is when I surrendered to full-time ministry."
The pastor and his wife, Julie, have three children: Natalie, 15 (preparing for 10th grade at South Aiken High School); Tyler, 11 (sixth grade, Aiken Intermediate); and Ruthie, 6 (first grade, Chukker Creek Elementary).
Cannon named the Rev. Don Wilton, senior pastor of Spartanburg's First Baptist, as a mentor, and Wilton shared a few thoughts on Millbrook's new leader.
"Rev. Cannon is an exceptional and extremely gifted pastor of the highest order. His previous church thrived under his leadership," Wilton wrote in an email. "He combines the essential capacity to preach God’s word with conviction and power, while demonstrating the gracious ability to love people with no strings attached. The congregation at Millbrook and the community of Aiken have added a wonderful family to their ranks."
Ministry is familiar territory for the Cannons, as the lady of the house grew up in Grace Baptist Church, in Duncan, where her father, the Rev. Sam Hammett, was the pastor for more than 32 years. Among her creations is "The Shared Spouse," a six-week devotional book focusing on families engaged in ministry, and her background includes work as a counselor at both the elementary and high school levels.
Wilton wrote that Julie "is a wonderful lady and friend to all and is the perfect partner in their call to serve the Lord in Aiken."
The Cannons' tenure in Travelers Rest, running from 2014 to 2020, was an exciting time, in the assessment of the Rev. Jason Farr, associate pastor of Locust Hill Baptist.
"The church has had over 200 members join the fellowship with an additional 56 baptisms," Farr wrote. "Dr. Cannon has been privileged to serve the Lord on mission trips to Guatemala, Toronto and South Korea."
The past year, he added, also included the veteran minister leading 30 Locust Hill members on an 11-day pilgrimage to Israel.
Millbrook's new pastor, in getting acquainted with Aiken, said local schools played a role in drawing his favorable attention.
"We had never seen Millbrook. We didn't know Millbrook ... I guess the thing that we really loved about the church was just that it was in the heart of the community – right there, with the schools close by, and I guess community's a big thing for us," he said. "We really want to be involved, not only in the church, but also in the community; and I just felt like ... where it was situated really provided a good opportunity to minister here in the community."
South Aiken High, Kennedy Middle and Millbrook Elementary are all within a few yards of Millbrook Baptist's campus. Cannon's new base of operations, according to the church's website, dates back to 1886, having begun with 16 members. Its current sanctuary was built and dedicated in 2005.