By Randy C. Davis
President and Executive Director, TBMB
On Tuesday, Aug. 9, I pinned a TBC lapel pin on my black suit and headed to historic First Baptist Church of Nashville. I wear lapel pins as I represent the Tennessee Baptist Convention and Tennessee Baptist Mission Board at various events. However, this day it seemed especially appropriate to wear this particular one since I was attending the funeral service of Dr. James Porch.
Dr. Porch preceded me for 18 years as executive director of the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (now TBMB) and before that was pastor of First Baptist Church Tullahoma, from 1977 to 1992.
The Executive Board issued a call to Dr. Porch in 1992 during a tumultuous time in the TBC. The Board’s decision reflected that period as he was called to the executive director position by a 51 percent affirmative vote.
He once told me he stepped into a small prayer room in the old Baptist Center in Brentwood after the vote and prayed over whether he should accept the position on such a narrow vote. As he recounted the story to me, he said the word God gave him was, “risk.” He took the risk, accepted the position, and did a lot more than just survive a close vote over the next 18 years.
During that divisive period in Baptist life across the Southern Baptist Convention, state conventions in Texas and Virginia split and there was talk of the same in Tennessee.
However, Tennessee Baptists stayed together. Dr Porch weathered storms and worked hard at keeping the TBC as united as possible. This was a major victory for the Kingdom.
Denominational storms were not the only difficult days for Dr. Porch as he sought to serve Tennessee Baptist churches. Not long into his new role, his beloved first wife, Lynn, was diagnosed with cancer and succumbed to the disease in 1999.
Still, Dr. Porch plowed ahead with hope. Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief, partnership missions, and Cooperative Program giving all grew during his tenure. And the Lord provided Dr. Porch with a new helpmate, Kelly, who has faithfully served alongside and supported him these many years.
Dr. Porch also led in the initial conversation a little before his retirement to sell the 88,000 square-foot Baptist Center in Brentwood. We eventually sold that building in 2013, allowing us to build the new Church Support Center in Franklin, opening a whole new era of serving Tennessee Baptists.
I called Dr. Porch last spring on behalf of the TBC History Committee and asked if he’d serve as the honorary chair of the 150th celebration planning team. He accepted and was genuinely touched by that sentiment. I was looking forward to his involvement in the process of making our convention’s 150th anniversary in 2024 a special celebration.
It was a fall at his home that eventually led to his passing. Dr Porch was hospitalized for over a month and shortly after being admitted I sat down with him for about an hour visit. We talked about his growing up in Mississippi, about our families, about books we recently read. There was no shop talk, no talk about the TBC or SBC. It was not purposely avoided; we just never got around to it. I’m glad. It was a visit I will cherish.
Dr. Porch approached me the day the Executive Committee of the Tennessee Baptist Convention selected me to succeed him. He removed the TBC lapel pin from his coat and placed it on my lapel. It is the same pin I wore to his funeral.
We are admonished in Scripture to “give honor where honor is due.” I extend that honor to Dr. James Porch as my appreciation for what he accomplished, and how he led, has grown during the past 12 years.
Dr. Porch, thank you for your good work and for passing the baton with grace. It was a joy to be on this journey with you, a journey that one glorious day will end with a wonderful reunion in a place called Heaven.