St. John’s Baptist Church

Worship | Sundays @ 10:30am

Remembering Dr. Thomas Graves

From the Heritage Room

Dr. Thomas Graves, Senior Minister, St. John’s Baptist Church

December 5, 1987- February 1991

The congregation of St. John’s voted to issue a call as Senior Minister to Dr. Thomas Graves in a church conference on Sunday, September 13, 1987. A reception was held to welcome the Graves’ family to St. John’s on the following Saturday.

In a letter to the congregation in the Family News of September 25, 1987, Dr. Graves wrote:

“With a sense of commitment, dedication, and excitement, I gladly accept the invitation to come to St. John’s Baptist Church as Senior Minister. No decision in our family’s life has been so deliberately made and seriously considered. We are sure that the choice to begin our ministry at St. John’s is the right and proper decision. I pledge to the congregation that my coming to St. John’s will begin with a recommitment on my part to the task of Christian ministry. I ask of the church fellowship that this be accompanied with a renewal of the church’s dedication to the ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.

I eagerly await the opportunity to share with you in the servant ministries of St. John’s. The years ahead are filled with opportunities and promise. In keeping with the great traditions of St. John’s let us go into that future together eager to proclaim Christ’s love and ready to e God’s servants in the midst of a needy and hurting world.”

Dr. Graves’ first sermon at St. John’s was on December 20, 1987, the fourth Sunday in Advent. The sermon was entitled “Angels Sing Again”. An installation service was held on January 10, 1988. The message, entitled “Finding a Towel with Your Name on It” was delivered by Dr. Randall Lolley, at that time, President of Southeastern Baptist Seminary. Following the message, Dr. Graves along with Jack Allen, Chairman of Deacons, participated in a “Symbol of Servanthood”- the washing of the feet of Dr. Graves after which Dr. Graves gave a “Response of Commitment”. This was followed by a “Charge to the Congregation” given by Dr. Claude Broach, retired Senior Minister and the reading of the Church Covenant by the congregation. The benediction at the conclusion of the service was delivered by Father Oscar Burnett, Executive Director of the Ecumenical Institute. (In true St. John’s tradition, a reception followed the service.)

Throughout his ministry, he continued his concern with regard to the changes occurring within the Southern Baptist Convention. In an article in the Charlotte Observer” on July 18, 1988, he wrote, “there is one issue that divides us. It is precisely at this point: Will we permit the loving kingdom of Jesus Christ to encompass all who desire to serve him or are we ready to allow an exclusion of some who may not fit into our idea of the kingdom’s service? The key issue is whether there is room in Southern Baptist life for all to lie in harmony and cooperation. . .Regardless pf the exclusive and demeaning action taken by some within my own denomination, I hope that St. John’s stand for inclusive love and that we welcome all who are ready to serve together in God’s loving fellowship.”

In January 1991, Dr Graves announced he was resigning from St. John’s to assume the position of President of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. In an article in the Charlotte Observer dated January 14, 1991, Dr. Graves was quoted “I will never again be pastor of a congregation as creative, responsive, eager and dedicated as St. John’s.” In an article in the Charlotte Observer announcing his

leaving, Ken Sanford was quoted “Deep in our hearts we know his decision to help provide training for moderate ministers is a higher calling, but we have deep regrets because he has revitalized St. John’s, and we will truly miss him.”

One of those future ministers was Lee Gray.

Not too long after Dr. Graves’ arrival at St. John’s, his seminary student and friend, Dr. Tommy McDearis, joined the staff as Associate Minister for Education. Tommy has remembered that this ‘was a joyful and productive time, one where we proved a progressive church could make and baptize believers while growing numerically and spiritually. We expanded the church’s mission outreach, helped found an interracial Baptist association, and ministered to a damaged city amidst the storms of Hurricane Hugo.”

In addition to those memories of Dr. McDearis, other events that occurred while Dr. Graves was at St. John’s–the Parish Nurse program was started during that time, the youth were able to raise money and then build a Habitat for Humanity house, and the church made the decision to build the Broach Hall addition to the church. His wife, Wendy, was also extremely active in the life of the church. One of the more memorable came when there were issues with the preparation of Wednesday night Family Night meals, she stepped forward and volunteered to take charge. (An aside- Wendy was a wonderful cook). Their daughters, Anne and Jennie, became involved in the various children’s programs of the church and made friendships with those in their age groups, some of which continued even after they left Charlotte.

Dr. Graves returned to St. John’s in 2012 as the proclaimer for our first Heritage Sunday service. His sermon title was “the Hospitality of God”. He maintained friendships and contacts with many in the congregation. He has written a chapter for our Anniversary book entitled “St. John’s and the Southern Baptist Convention Controversy” as well as a separate article of his memories during his time at St. John’s.