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Grandson follows grandfather in New Bethlehemís pulpitcomment (0)

April 5, 2007

By Brian Blackwell

Like most boys his age, then-12-year-old Mark Brown enjoyed spending long afternoons with his grandfather. In Brown’s case, those memories include visiting prospects for Presley Street Baptist Church, Atmore, where his grandfather Fred Brown served as pastor.

"Not long after one of those visits, a gentleman in our church said that one day, I would be a pastor just like my granddad," he said. "I thought that was not what I would do for a career one day."

For years, Brown dismissed the thought of following in his grandfather’s footsteps. Then last summer, health problems forced Fred Brown to retire from New Bethlehem Baptist Church, near Atmore, paving the way for Mark Brown to succeed his grandfather as pastor of the Escambia Baptist Association congregation in December 2006.

Mark Brown — who accepted the call to ministry four years ago thanks to a retired Anglican bishop encouraging him to follow God’s plan for his life — admitted his first week as pastor was frightening.

"My grandfather was a pastor of churches here in the association for (almost) 60 years, so he was well known by many people in the community," he said.

"Plus with him there in the congregation watching me preach, (it) caused me not to want to mess up in front of him."

But that feeling of nervousness soon vanished for the 42-year-old bivocational pastor. A former member of the 3,000-member Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, Fla., he said the change from a megachurch to a 75-member congregation was a pleasant surprise.

"This is a return to my roots," said Mark Brown, who lived in Atmore until he left to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1982. "There is a tremendous family feel here. This church wants to grow and reach the community because they have a desire to reach the people around them."

He attributes the church’s heart for Atmore to his grandfather, who he said has greatly impacted the community since he began serving as a pastor in the area six decades ago.

"It’s very inspiring to see where our church and Atmore have come from and what we’ve done when I look back on (the church’s) history," Mark Brown said. "And it all started with my grandfather."

Born Nov. 8, 1918, in Monroe County, Fred Brown lived on his family’s farm there with his five brothers and three sisters. He attended Semria Springs Baptist Church in Monroe County with his family until he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

It was at Semria Springs Baptist that he felt the call to preach full time, though he did not publicly surrender to the ministry until 1950 when he returned from his tour of duty.

"The Lord had dealt with me as a young boy and was calling me to serve Him in the pulpit (when I was 12 years old)," Fred Brown recalled. "But it wasn’t until I was about to undergo stomach surgery in my late 20s that I told the Lord that once I got out of the hospital, I would walk down that aisle to let others know of my decision.

"I promised the Lord that when I opened my eyes after surgery, I would say ‘Here am I; send me,’" he said. "He’s been sending me ever since."

His ministerial career began in 1950 at Little Escambia Baptist Church, Flomaton, in Escambia Association. He preached on Sundays while attending Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham and the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary extension center in Birmingham.

Once he earned his degree from New Orleans Seminary in 1958, he accepted the call to serve as pastor of Presley Street Baptist in Escambia Association. He remained there 15 years until becoming director of missions (DOM) for Escambia Association, a position he held for almost 14 years.

As DOM, he instituted a weekday ministry program, offering backyard Bible clubs to the youth and senior adults among the Creek Indian and black populations in Atmore.

"When Fred started as director of missions, he wanted to do something to break the racial barrier," his wife, Joyce, recalled. "Everyone here was in their own cubicle and Fred didn’t like that. He wanted to open the gates and let people in, regardless of their color of skin."

Throughout his service as DOM, he considered ministering to the association’s churches with smaller memberships a privilege. It was his love for those churches that led him to serve Moyeville Baptist Church, Brewton, and New Bethlehem Baptist for 12 years once he resigned as DOM in 1987.

Now he offers his grandson advice on a weekly basis as he serves as New Bethlehem’s pastor.

Current Escambia Association DOM Pat Andrews called the hire a win-win situation for New Bethlehem. In fact, he said the future seems bright for Mark Brown and his congregation.

"As the director of missions, I have a hard time finding good bivocational pastors," Andrews admitted. "As a former director of missions in this association, Fred has been really helpful to me, especially in this case.

"He initiated the contact with Mark and got the process started, and everything has fit into place. This will be helpful for the church and for Mark as they grow together in the days ahead."

Of course, Andrews acknowledged a challenge for the new pastor, too.

"Fred has been in the ministry in different capacities for [nearly] 60 years, and Mark wants to do well to please the Lord, his church and his grandfather."

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