Influential conservative leader Dr. D. James Kennedy died Wednesday morning, church officials reported.
Kennedy, whose retirement as senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida was recently announced, died "peacefully in his sleep" at home at approximately 2:15 a.m., according to a released statement. He was 76.
"There are all kinds of wonderful things I could say about my dad," said daughter Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy. "But one that stands out is his fine example. He 'walked the walk' and 'practiced what he preached.' His work for Christ is lasting – it will go on and on and make a difference for eternity."
Cassidy and Kennedy's wife Anne of 51 years were by his bedside when he died.
"For decades now, you have stood strong in defense of faith, family, and most importantly, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Believers around the world are indebted to you for your vision and leadership, Dr. Kennedy," said Dr. James C. Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, prior to Kennedy's death.
Kennedy has been dubbed by Dobson and other evangelicals as one of the Church's "truly significant figures."
Kennedy began his pastorate at Coral Ridge in 1959 and is also the founder and president of the multi-media organization Coral Ridge Ministries and the founder of Evangelism Explosion, which equips people in every nation and territory to share their faith in Christ.
Although the broadcaster was not nearly as well known as other conservative leaders such as the late Rev. Jerry Falwell or Focus on the Family's Dobson, conservative evangelicals agree that he was a leading defender of faith who had made a significant impact in changing the world.
"I commend Dr. Kennedy, for his stalwart leadership in defending faith, family and freedom. Most of all, I am grateful for his godly example, his integrity and his unwavering dedication to the gospel of Jesus Christ," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a statement released after hearing of Kennedy's retirement.
On Aug. 26, Kennedy's daughter had announced her father's retirement at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Kennedy suffered cardiac arrest last December and multiple complications since and had been unable to return to the pulpit after preaching his last sermon on Christmas Eve. On several occasions, Kennedy has said how much he looked forward to being free from pain in heaven, according to a released statement.
Prior to Kennedy's death, the megachurch had scheduled to hold a Tribute Worship Service honoring the extensive ministry of Kennedy for Sept. 23.
"We will miss Dr. Kennedy enormously," said Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, in a statement. "His moral leadership and his legacy of impacting the globe for Jesus Christ is unmatched by few in the history of the Church. It is our desire to honor him by sustaining and multiplying his impact through Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and all the ministries founded by Dr. Kennedy in the years to come."
A Memorial Service open to the public will be held at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. The date is yet to be announced.
A tribute website to the life and ministry of Kennedy can be found at www.djameskennedy.org.