The most rewarding part of attending Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary was by far the training to be a pastor, said The Rev. James H. Brown (MDiv ’58).
“Louisville Seminary really did give me a background that prepared me to be a parish pastor,” he said. It was “the faculty and what they taught us and the field education program.”
Like the training for running a marathon, Brown’s preparation for ministry enabled him to carry out a long career in ministry that lasted more than 37 years. Congregations in Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, and the District of Columbia are among those he has served, with additional service at the presbytery level of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Rev. Brown talked about his journey in pastoral ministry at a gathering of Seminary alums and friends, Tuesday, May 3, 2011, during which he received the 2011 Distinguished Alum Award. The event was part of the 2011 Festival of Theology and Reunion events, hosted on the campus, May 1-4.
The award recognizes graduates who have influenced the Church and society through outstanding professional, volunteer, or philanthropic accomplishments while enhancing the mission of Louisville Seminary, and thereby, the Seminary’s contribution to the Church and future seminarians.
A graduate of Centre College in Danville, Ky., Brown said he arrived at Louisville Seminary by way of his college roommate and later brother-in-law, another Louisville Seminary Distinguished Alum, Dr. David A. Steere (BD ’56), Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Counseling at Louisville Seminary.
At the award event, Steere introduced his brother-in-law as “Captain, my captain,” referring to his first meeting of Brown, who was captain of the football team at Centre College. The two played several seasons, side-by-side on the offense, where Steere said he learned a lot about Brown’s character: “a team player and a man of cooperation.”
It was Steere who “suggested that I come to Louisville Seminary,” Brown said.
Brown had been supplying a Presbyterian congregation in Smiths Grove, Kentucky, which wouldn’t let him stay on without being a student, so “that was a nudge for me,” he said. He enrolled at Louisville Seminary and “was impressed with the faculty and what we were learning.” And, since he was already serving a congregation, Brown said he could immediately apply what he learned in the classroom to his ministry. Preaching every Sunday as a student pastor while in Seminary was “formative,” and he said he discovered “I had a knack for it.” In 1958, during his last year of study, he was elected class president and earned the Field Education Award for his work as a student pastor.
Throughout his ministry, which includes a pastorate at First Presbyterian Church of Jeffersonville, Indiana, from 1979 to 1995, Brown has tried to give back what he received as a seminarian by serving as a field education supervisor. The best part of working with the students, he said, is “watching them develop.”
He particularly tried to open ministry doors for women, who were not being fully embraced in leadership in the Presbyterian Church. One particular time in the early 1980s, “I supervised three students,” two of whom were women, Brown said.
Another dimension to his enduring ministry that was formed at Louisville Seminary was Brown’s sense of community involvement and social consciousness. As a minister, Brown has been a long-standing member of “The Moral Side of the News,” one of the longest running public affairs programs in American broadcast history. Begun as a radio show in the late 1940s on Louisville’s 840AM WHAS, it was one of the first television shows to air on WHAS-TV in 1950. The weekly program continues to feature a panel of clergy from diverse faiths, who discuss current affairs and give their unique moral perspectives.
Over the past several years, out of his passion for interfaith relations and global concern, he and his spouse, Sarah, have helped coordinate four Christian/Muslim dialogues with Dr. Riffat Hissan of the University of Louisville.
“We are all called by God to give voice to what we witness as the movement of God’s Spirit in our lives and in our communities. We do that in common conversation,” Brown affirmed.
2011 Distinguished Alum awards were also presented to Chaplain Colonel Brenson P. Bishop (’95); Dr. J. Michael Efird (’58), and The Rev. Dr. Willa Fae Williams (‘93).