As we come to the end of our emphasis on the 1940s, the following is a biographical sketch of the life of Dr. Claude Upshaw Broach who came to St. John’s in 1944 and served as Senior Minister for the next thirty years.
He was born on August 16, 1913, in Walton County, Georgia, the son of Mary Emma “Mae” Upshaw and William Earl Broach. He grew up in nearby Athens and after high school, began studying architecture at Georgia Tech. After one year, he decided to prepare for the ministry and transferred to the University of Georgia for the completion of his B.A. degree. He then attended Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY where he earned a Master’s and Doctor of Theology degree. In 1938, while on a trip to Europe, he met and later married Katherine Terry Sellers of New Orleans on October 1, 1938. She was the daughter of Dr. Thomas Benton Sellers and Kate Terry Sellers. Dr. and Mrs. Broach had three children, Kathy (husband Frank Bragg), Mary Arnall (Marni) (husband J. Sears McGee), and Claude Upshaw Broach, Jr. (wife Sallie). Dr. Broach died May 29, 1997, at the age of 83 and his ashes were interred in the St. John’s Memorial Garden.
Dr. Broach had brief pastorates in Versailles, KY, and Covington, VA before accepting a post with the Student Department of the Baptist Sunday School Board. In May 1944, he accepted the call from St. John’s to become the third minister of the church.
He was very supportive of ecumenism. In 1965, when the Vatican Council II was underway, he mentioned to Father Cuthbert Allen, a monk of Belmont Abbey, that he was unsuccessful in persuading the Southern Baptist Convention to send a delegate to the Council but that he would like to attend himself. Documents were obtained and he arrived in Rome at the Council as a “visiting theologian”, Dr. Broach was also a good friend of Harry Golden, the publisher of “The Carolina Israelite”, who lived just around the corner from the church on Elizabeth Avenue.
He collaborated with Dr. Clarence Jordan, another Southern Baptist clergyman, who founded, in 1942, the Koinonia Farm, an interracial community. He and other Charlotte clergy received hate mail for their intervention to prevent racial discrimination and promote ecumenism. For these endeavors, Belmont Abbey awarded him a doctorate in humane letters in 1966.
His obituary in the Charlotte Observer included the statement:
“He is remembered for his courageous stand, sometimes unpopular on racial and social justice, Christian theology, denominational policy, and ecumenism. During his long career, he took leadership roles on countless committees and boards including the Mecklenburg Baptist Interracial Commission, the Mayor’s Committee on Community Relations, the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches, and the Wake Forest University Board of Trustees.”
In 1968, while serving as a Trustee of Wake Forest University, he persuaded the president of the university to establish an Ecumenical Institute to “develop a cooperative venture of scholars to find answers to the questions that trouble the religious world. to work to develop mutually supportive fellowship, a common witness, study, and action to the glory of God and the good of persons”. After his retirement, he served as the director of the Institute.
In 1980, the Broaches moved to Tryon, NC where he held several interim pastorates, was a Hospice chaplain and was a founding member of Habitat for Humanity in Tryon. He was named Pastor Emeritus of St. John’s in 1988 and was honored in 1992 by the dedication of the “Claude and Katharine broach Hall’ at St. John’s.