Thursday, January 08, 2009

Finley Tinnin, Rest in Peace

Today I learned from a post on the Baptist Temple Facebook page that my childhood pastor, the Rev. Dr. Finley Tinnin, died yesterday. Tears have welt up in my eyes as I think back on such a wonderful and loving pastor--one who was both a sympathetic leader and one who was also a bit aloof to a 15-year old kid curious about what life in the ministry would look like, as I first knew him.

I have these images in my head of his pastor's study. In it, books on walnut stained bookshelves surrounded the office. His dark wooden desk met any visitor as they entered his space, his place. The study was what you'd imagine a 1950's era study would look like (even though it was the early 80's). It was warm, neat, and organized (unlike my study). Sitting behind the desk but rising as I would come in, I was scared witless (for whatever reason, I felt like I was talking with a prophet whenever I spoke with him). He would extend a hand, gester for me to sit down with a smile gently which would put me at ease (somewhat).

I began going to see him after my Christian conversion. Afterall, it was he who baptized me. And, I felt a unique bond to him after the baptismal episode where, once immersed beneath the water, he tried to lift me up (all 6'9" of me) and me, upon his direction, moving my back leg so that I helped raise me up from the waters. The only thing, when I tried to do this, my foot slipped and we both fell back into the water, arms flaying, water spewing, and laughter erupting from the entire congregation.

Following my baptism, I immersed myself into the life of the church. I went to Sunday school, Sunday morning church and Sunday evening church. I went to Wednesday night youth night and Friday night prayer time. I attended Falls Creek Baptist Assembly and any and all church-related activities. And I did it because I wanted to do so. I loved Baptist Temple, Dr. Tinnin and my youth pastor, Steve McNeil.

Within a year, I began to have a sense that I belonged in ministry. As a result, Dr. Tinnin and I spoke often about my interpretation of this "call to ministry"--sometimes he'd refer me to my youth pastor, at other times, he'd quiz me about my intentions. When I turned 16 and I was still coming to see him, and somewhat convinced that this wasn't a passing phase, he led to me teach. Believing that an ability and love of teaching were always the confirmation that a person has been called to ministry, he directed me to teach Sunday school. From then on, I demonstrated a love and an ability for teaching that confirmed for him my place in ministry. And that began my lifelong journey in ministry.

Many years later, when I attended college after a stint in the US Air Force, Dr. Tinnin was my reference to a job where I was the Assistant Chaplain at the local Baptist Nursing Home, where I led worship and visited the residents. It was a ministry I held for 3-years and loved every minute of it. When Dr. Tinnin recommended me to the position, he told me what he wrote. He said, "If Bo wants to do this, he'll do a super job. You'll be glad you have him." I remember thinking how interesting a recommendation that was and how true I felt it represented me.

Since that time, much of my life and faith have changed. I doubt Dr. Tinnin would have recognized me today, had we kept in touch. Years and life experiences led me away from home and yet a part of home has always remained with me. I have thought of Dr. Tinnin when I have preached a long sermon (he tended to do that often) or when some crisis needs availing, I ask myself how he would have handled it (he was the consumate peacemaker).

I will miss Dr. Tinnin as will countless others who have been inspired by him. Many will remember his gentle ways, his deep convictions, and his faithfulness in ministry. As just about anyone who knew will tell you, there was something warm and amazing about him. And yet, for as long as I knew him, I didn't really ever know him well. But I think of him and know that he affected me in ways that no other person has done. He was kind and really good at what he did--and he did what he did for a loooooooong time. I hope that my ministry will be as long as fruitful as his was.

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