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Sixth Avenue’s John Porter made mark as pastor; plans retirementcomment (0)

January 6, 2000

By Dianna L. Cagle

For someone who “never got far in life,” John Thomas Porter has certainly made a difference in many people’s lives.

Growing up in Titusville, a community within Birmingham, the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church pastor has spent the last 37 years serving at the church.

Porter announced his plan to retire in March. Since that time, Sixth Avenue has found several ways to honor their longtime leader. In May, the congregation held a banquet for Porter and his wife, Dorothy. A church musical in September celebrated the Porters service.

“I want to go while it’s still good,” Porter said.

Born in 1931, Porter attended Washington Elementary School and graduated from A.H. Parker High School in 1948.

He finished at Alabama State University (ASU) in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in history and English. During his last year at ASU, Porter decided to become a pastor. He met Martin Luther King Jr. when King, who Porter called a “dynamic preacher,” was visiting ASU’s campus and became a pulpit assistant at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery.

After finishing ASU in ’55, Porter pursued his master of divinity degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta. During his three years in Atlanta, Porter said he worked for Martin Luther King Sr. serving in various positions at Ebenezer Baptist Church – from maintenance to helping with the services. He graduated from Morehouse in 1958. Porter said King taught him about serving communion, discipline, order and love.

“He had the kind of spirit I visualized a preacher having,” he said. He never had “bitterness in his spirit.”

Porter said he likes to tell people “I never got far in life” because the only time spent away from Birmingham was while in school and at his first church in Detroit from 1958 to 1962.

Porter came to Sixth Avenue Baptist in 1962. He has not limited his work to church activities during his service at Sixth Avenue. He served in the Alabama House of Representatives for three years and the parole board for 12 years.

He said serving in the House was “like watching the parade go by” back then because the black delegation didn’t have much power.

A search committee for Porter’s replacement has been working since August to narrow the search to four candidates. Porter called the process “slow” and “methodical.”

“It’s a matter of advertising,” Porter said.

He agreed to stay until the church finds a replacement, but as time passes, Porter said he may set a date soon for his last sermon. The committee hopes to have someone in place by April.

“The most difficult aspect of my job is preaching,” Porter said. “I like talking to people in one-on-one situations.”

As for housing, the Porters won’t have to worry about that either. The church gave the parsonage to the Porters about eight years ago, so Porter said he and his wife aren’t worried about having to relocate.

Porter said he doesn’t know what he’ll do with his spare time after he retires. “I don’t have any hobbies,” Porter said. “I don’t golf. I don’t fish.”

But he does love going to the movies. Porter said his favorite film is “Shawshank Redemption.”

While he said he likes all kinds of films, his favorite genre is action.

Sixth Avenue is dually aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Convention USA.

Porter said he’s not a “convention person.” He said his spirit is too “sensitive” to get involved with the politics of a convention.

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