To hear Dr. Brown quote, ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help’ was to hear the rich resonance of a man whose soul was in tune with the God of the mountains. (from the printed program distributed at the Fred Brown Chapel dedication service)
First Baptist’s longest-serving senior pastor (1921-1946), Dr. Frederick Fernando Brown was among our church’s most beloved ministers. During the celebration of First Baptist’s 100th anniversary in 1943, Dr. Brown embraced the past, acknowledging the great men and women on whose shoulders our church was built. In our 175th year, we can turn to Dr. Brown’s legacy
In 1882, Frederick Fernando Brown was born in a cabin nestled in the heart of North Carolina’s
Dr. Brown began his ministerial career in 1910 in Kentucky. In 1916, he became the pastor of First Baptist Church, Sherman, TX. When President Woodrow Wilson requested that Dr. Brown
I was unable to read [the scripture] until I had brushed away the mist that dimmed my eyes and had gained control of my emotions. Tears were flowing down the cheeks of those strong men. In our minds, we were all home again!
After returning from WWI, he remained at First Baptist, Sherman until 1921.
Years at First Baptist, Knoxville
Dr. Brown preached at First Baptist on Gay Street for the first time on May 1, 1921, delivering a sermon titled “Loyalty to Vision.” He later revealed that his knees shook when he stood before his new congregation. Yet, he served his church and denomination with distinction over the next 25 years.
A little over three years after Dr. Brown came to First Baptist, the $600,000 church on Main Street opened its doors with approximately 1200 members. On
His pastorate in Knoxville included the 1922 economic recession, the “boom and bust” of the late 1920s, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and WWII. During those financially stressful years under Dr. Brown’s leadership, First Baptist never missed a payment to the bank or to denominational entities. Typical of his selfless service, Dr. Brown cut his own salary twice, once to avoid reducing a custodian’s salary.
On discussing church finances, Dr. Brown once commented, “I don’t raise money. I just talk about how good God has been to us, and people give money.” However, Fred Kaserman, Dr. Brown’s grandson and a current church
Seeing the University of Tennessee as a mission field, Dr. Brown led the drive to build the first Baptist Student Union on campus. Speaking to the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, who had resisted the idea, he said, “If you do not build it, then our church will; and we will take the money from our mission funds and designate them to this student ministry.” Driving a hard bargain, he knew that the state organization depended on the church’s funds to pay its staff because First Baptist was the Tennessee leader in donations at the time. He likewise advocated building East Tennessee Baptist Hospital.
Suffering from the Great Depression’s devastating effects, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was six million dollars in debt by 1931, posing a funding threat for missionaries and Baptist-sponsored institutions. That year, Dr. Brown traveled throughout the Convention’s region from Maryland to Arizona as executive secretary of SBC’s Promotion Committee. Preaching in “associational meetings, state conventions, local churches, and other venues, attempting to enlist one million tithers…,” he became “the most-traveled man in the SBC, as the
Elected SBC’s president for 1933, Dr. Brown was the youngest to hold that position. When asked about his feelings regarding his election, he answered in one word, humble, giving his wife and church the credit. Although he was unable to preach the convention sermon because of poor health, “the fruit of his efforts resonated … throughout the Baptist world.”
Dr. Brown worked in many other denominational capacities including being a member of the board that organized what became the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program and serving as
(Ironically, Dr. Brown’s conversion came during a “protracted” service, which was deemed a failure because only two people were converted. Yet his conversion and call to the ministry led to his success at the church level and denomination-wide.)