Kirkland, addressing the Courier board of trustees' biannual meeting March 2, said when he was asked in 1974 to join the paper's staff he knew "God was leading me to the Courier, and I've never doubted that.
"And neither do I doubt that God is now leading me away from my service here as editor," he told trustees.
Kirkland said his time as editor has been marked by serving with trustees "who have kept the best interests of the Courier and its mission at the forefront in their thinking and their actions."
"This is a happy more than sad occasion for me," he added, "because I am eager to learn the plans God has for me when a new chapter in my life opens."
Randy Harling, trustee chairman and pastor of First Baptist Church in Simpsonville, said South Carolina Baptists "owe a debt of gratitude" to Kirkland.
"Don has informed and inspired thousands of Baptists over the years. His journalistic gift made even the dullest topic a pleasure to read," Harling said.
Kirkland also "managed to avoid being labeled as biased" and he "kept the Courier on a fair journalistic path," Harling said. Kirkland possesses a "keen understanding of our rich Baptist heritage" but "didn't allow that to interfere with communicating our role as Christ-followers."
Kirkland will be 69 when he retires after 42 years of denominational service -- 38 of them at the Courier.
He joined the paper's editorial staff in 1974 as assistant editor and was named associate editor in 1983. He succeeded John Roberts as the Courier's 10th editor on March 1, 1996.
The son of a Baptist pastor, Kirkland was born in Columbia and spent most of his boyhood in Lancaster. He is a graduate of Anderson College (now Anderson University), the University of South Carolina and Erskine Theological Seminary, where he earned a master of arts in Christian education. He was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree by Charleston Southern University.
Kirkland is a member of Earle Street Baptist Church in Greenville, where he was licensed to the ministry, and he is a former president of the Association of State Baptist Papers.
He and his wife Linda, a teacher at Riverside High School, have two children and four grandchildren.
"When my wife and I were in our teens, we both made commitments to seek God's guidance in our choice of careers," Kirkland told the Courier's trustees. "For Linda, it was the classroom, to teach English. For me, after a short time in the classroom and in newspaper work, it was Baptist communications.
"We both have been privileged to do what we know God led us to do for more than four decades. How could anyone be more blessed?"
Harling said the executive committee of the board of trustees will begin meeting later in March "to pray for who God has to assume leadership of the Courier."
Butch Blume is managing editor of The Baptist Courier (www.baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net