My father stayed in touch with people all over the world. But I was still surprised earlier this week when the Senior Minister of First Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia – where I was speaking – quickly made the association between me and my hyper-connected father.
Historic Savannah Foundation invited me to be the guest speaker at their annual meeting, which was being held in the historic sanctuary of First Baptist Church. In a bit of chit-chat before the meeting began with their senior minister, Dr. John Finley, I mentioned that I grew up attending First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
That’s when Dr. Finley looked at me and asked, “Are you Tom’s son?”
I must have looked pretty dumb-founded, because he quickly added, “My first job out of college at Vanderbilt was as a youth minister in First Baptist in Murfreesboro.” Dr. Finley was there in the mid-1970s for three months, and became friends with my mom and dad, as well as the staff and others. Daddy kept in touch and even visited Savannah in 2000, when First Baptist hosted a Baptist History conference. We chatted about many connections (including Dr. Eugene Cotey, my pastor growing up), and I left that evening with a copy of Pilgrims through the Years, the excellent history of First Baptist written by George H. Shriver.
“The First Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia, was chartered on November 26, 1800, and soon thereafter the first meeting house was built on Franklin Square. The cornerstone of the present church on Chippewa Square was laid on February 2, 1831, and the building was completed in 1833. This Greek Revival structure is Savannah’s oldest standing house of worship.”
When I returned to my hotel room, I texted some of my brothers and sisters to see if they remembered Dr. Finley. It turns out my sister Debbie was in a newlyweds class with the Finleys, and my brother Joe was in his youth group. Joe wrote back and said,
“If I’m not mistaken, he was the first youth minister ever hired by FBC. I think Claude King was the next one. I always said I drove Claude out of youth work!”
When I responded that he drove Dr. Finley out as well, because he told me that those three months in Murfreesboro convinced him he never wanted to do youth ministry again, Joe responded with “It’s a gift!”
As fate would have it, I was reading about “Six Degrees of Separation and Three Degrees of Influence” in Jonathan F.P. Rose’s new book The Well Tempered City on the plane ride to Savannah. Rose writes that if a city wants to promote positive behaviors, “the most effective strategy is to target people who are at the center of social clusters and have them reach out to those who are less connected.”
While he wouldn’t have named it this way, Tom Brown was definitely a force of nature when it came to social clusters.
It is one more legacy of a life well lived.
More to come…