Person:Dr. John Thomas Ford (1920)
Dr. John Thomas Ford (1920)
Photo from the First Baptist Church (Bobo and Johnson)
|Born:||May 6, 1920, Boaz, Kentucky|
• Listed as the pastor of Huntsville's First Baptist Church from 1953 -1979 - Bobo and Johnson for Heritage book
• "The building on Clinton Avenue was renovated at various times to gain more space for worship, Sunday School, and Church Training. A small tract of additional real estate was acquired and a new Education Building was added while Dr. J.T. Ford was pastor. Population and industry in the whole area were increasing. Church attendance and membership at First Baptist also increased." - Bobo and Johnson
• "Next in the leadership line came a Kentuckian, J. T. Ford, 28, whose tenure was comparatively brief but nonetheless progressive and important to the expanding future of the church in a city now grown to 38,000. Capacity of the building was again exceeded and as the mid-century mark passed Sunday School members were again traipsing a few hundred feet westward to West Clinton school for Sunday School. Brother Ford led the church to commence a major building program after shelving the thought of just selling out and starting anew in a different location. While the entire church met at West Clinton school, the sanctuary was remodeled to double its capacity to 900, and a major education/office structure was begun on the north side of the main building which included a chapel accommodating 150. (On heavy-attendance days, the sanctuary's overflow would go the chapel and hear the service by radio.) The new building had a total of 54 rooms, accommodating 750 in Sunday School. This, added to the 250-capacity basement, gave FBC classrooms for 1,000. Cost of the new structure was well beyond $100,000 but money was no major problem. Newness was abroad. In 1950 Earl B. Crawford was employed as minister of education and music at a salary of $3,900; a system of deacon rotation was started; The Messenger weekly newsletter was begun, and 23 members were dismissed with best wishes in the formation of the Southside Baptist Church. The next year Beulah Ware was celebrated on her 50th year as organist, now at a new instrument. A Boy Scout troop was begun, and celebrated Baptist preacher R. G. Lee of Memphis visited. The deacons arranged an honorary doctorate for their distinguished young pastor at Howard College, and soon thereafter he was called to head the First Baptist Church of Birmingham, leaving his Huntsville congregation richer by 450 members for a total of 1,408, Sunday School enrollment nearly doubled, and greatly enlarged/improved facilities, all in three years." - Jones
• "On January 30, 1949, the Pulpit Committee of First Baptist Church visited the Calvary Baptist Church, Tupelo, Mississippi, to hear their guest preacher, the Reverend J. T. Ford. Guy Lynn was chairman of the committee. Reverend Ford, unaware of their mission until after the service, granted the committee a conference. They prevailed upon him to visit Huntsville, Alabama, en route to his home in Sturgis, Kentucky, where he was pastor of the First Baptist Church. When he, with his family, first saw Huntsville, snuggled next to Monte Sano Mountain, he was, at least, favorably impressed with the scenery and topography. Huntsville had a population of approximately thirty-eight thousand at the time.
Word spread of his presence in town, and by Wednesday night, February 2, 1949, a number of members were at the church to hear him speak. The Pulpit Committee was ready to recommend Reverend Ford as the new pastor. At the time, he felt that things were moving too fast. (In retrospect, he felt it was the hand of the Lord.) In his reluctance to accept a call to the pastorate on such short notice, he told the committee that he felt the church facilities were inadequate. He soon learned that the church was planning to remedy that problem.
When the church voted unanimously on February 6, 1949, to extend a call to him, he accepted. He resigned from his position in Kentucky, and was on the field March 1, 1949. The Reverend Ford, Mrs. Ford, Tommy, age three, and Warren, who was only ten months old, moved into the pastorium at 504 Randolph Street.
On March 6, the new pastor preached to an overflow crowd with many being turned away. On Sunday night, the Huntsville Ministers Association, with the Reverend Harry B. Wade as president, was in charge at a special welcoming service. On Tuesday evening, March 8, the church entertained with a formal reception for the new pastor and his wife. More than five hundred guests called between the hours of 8 and 10 P.M.
On the following Sunday morning, March 13, even more worshippers had to be turned away from the First Baptist Church. Immediately, a decision was made to begin an 8:30 A.M. worship service. This pleased the members who had previously been unable to attend worship at 11:00 A.M. due to their work schedule. The business of the church accelerated so much that church conferences, previously held quarterly, or even semi-annually, were held monthly, or more often when necessary.
The first revival under Reverend Ford's leadership began April 24, 1949, with the pastor doing the preaching, and W. J. Works of Atlanta, Georgia, as the Evangelistic Song Leader. At the next conference, there were expressions of appreciation to Reverend Ford for the good sermons and spiritual uplift of the revival.
As was the custom, the church sent the pastor to the Southern Baptist Convention, which met in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1949.
By June 1949, the Sunday School attendance had increased so much that some of the classes were moved back to the West Clinton School.
Several people remember that Reverend Ford's preaching was effective in reaching so many of the businessmen of Huntsville. A number of them made professions of faith and were baptized. Several became deacons and have served faithfully many years.
Henry Hilson, one of the younger members at the time, recalled: 'One of the things I remember about Dr. Ford was that he always wore a dark blue suit, a white shirt, and a blue tie, and had a spotlight shining down on him when he was speaking...He had a good voice, and he made an excellent appearance.' All who have expressed opinions agreed with that evaluation."
(The chapter tells of the Dr. Ford's many initiatives. Among them, he provided leadership for an aggressive building and renovation project and he made important suggestions concerning the governing processes.)
"Four hundred fifty?one new members had been received into the church membership during the thirty?four months of Ford's ministry, one hundred fifty?two by baptism. The total membership was 1,408, with 902 resident and 506 non-resident members. Attendance at worship services had doubled. Sunday School attendance had almost doubled and Training Union attendance had more than doubled. Gifts to missions and to the Cooperative Program had increased more than fourfold. A graded choir program was being developed. Both morning and evening services were being broadcast over Radio Station WFUN, Huntsville.
The church and its deacons were instrumental in initiating and bringing about the consideration of Reverend Ford by Howard College for the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Divinity. The degree was conferred June 1, 1953.
In October 1952, the Reverend Ford was called as pastor of the First Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama. He resigned the pastorate at Huntsville to be effective December 1, 1952. His letter to the church reveals his personal feelings better than could any other writer. His thoughts are characteristic of the man whom God had sent 'to change the guard.'" - Bobo and Johnson
• His letter of resignation:
October 26, 1952
To the Members of First Baptist Church,
My Dear Christian Friends:
It is generally known, by now, that we have received a unanimous call to the First Baptist Church of Birmingham, Alabama. Their committee made its initial visit to Huntsville more than two months ago, and for several weeks, we have had their work under prayerful consideration. We were beginning to feel that the Lord was leading, even before we gave them permission to extend an official call. The one remaining condition, on our part, was that it should be unanimous.
The report from their meeting on last Wednesday Evening assures us that it not only was one of complete and unquestioned unanimity, but that the service itself reached one of the highest spiritual peaks in the history of the church.
With all of this evidence that God is leading us into that field of labor, and feeling confident in our hearts that it is his will that we go, I hereby present to you that pastorate on that date.
The work there presents a tremendous challenge and a very heavy burden of responsibility. For that reason, we felt very reluctant to believe that we should go. In going, you will understand that we cast ourselves upon the mercies of God, and the sustaining prayers of our friends and fellow?workmen. In this respect, nothing could be more heartening to us than to be assured of your continued confidence and your earnest prayers in our behalf.
We ask you to accept this decision as the evident will of God in our lives and in his Kingdom's service. Please be assured that if he is calling us away, he has another servant, somewhere, prepared through providence to assume this work and lead you on into greater and greater spiritual ministries in this place. I am confident that through earnest prayer and intelligent seeking, you will find that man.
It will be difficult indeed for us to leave you. The immediate spirit and power of this church are obvious to us all. It seems so hard to think of leaving when the tide is so high and the fellowship so sweet. However, it has come to us that God has prepared you for this experience, and that these are the conditions under which you can be best prepared to make the transition. I can only hope that you will guard that harmony and treasure that fine spirit as your dearest possession during these decisive days. Thank you and God bless you.
Your servant in Christ,
J. T. Ford - Bobo and Johnson
• "John Thomas Ford was born in Boaz, Kentucky, May 6, 1920, the son of James Gordon and Mary Hughes Ford. At the age of sixteen, he was valedictorian of the graduating class of Boaz High School. Upon completion of a Business Course at Draughon Business College, he worked as a bookkeeper. While attending Paducah Junior College, he felt the call to the ministry and was ordained in 1941. He soon transferred to Union University, Jackson, Tennessee, a Baptist institution, receiving a degree in June 1943. On June 20, 1943, the Reverend Ford was married to Mary Helen Crockett, who was then a junior at Union University. (She later was an honor graduate of both Oglethorpe College, Atlanta, and Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.)
The Fords moved to Louisville, where he entered Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and received the Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1946, and later earned the master's degree.
He served as pastor of the church in Greenbriar, Tennessee, and then the First Baptist Church, Sturgis, Kentucky. In February 1949, he was called to First Baptist Church, Huntsville, Alabama, and assumed the duties on March 1, 1949.
On December 1, 1952, he became pastor of the First Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, where he served until June 1955. He next accepted the pastorate of the Wieuca Road Baptist Church of Atlanta. He also served as pastor of First Baptist Church, Alexandria, Virginia, and the First Baptist Church, Opelika, Alabama.
From 1972 until 1977, Dr. Ford was Executive Assistant for Administration, West Georgia College. From 1977 until 1981, he was Dean and Vice President of Truett?McConnell College in Cleveland, Georgia. He is now Executive Director of the Georgia Foundation for Independent Colleges, based in Atlanta, Georgia.
On June 1, 1953, Howard College (now Samford University) conferred on the Reverend Ford the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. He did post graduate work at Princeton Seminary in 1956 and 1965, and at Union University in 1959. He holds the master's and doctorate in Higher Education Administration from Auburn University.
Dr. Ford has held many posts in Southern Baptist affairs. He is an author and a frequent speaker at schools, clubs, and churches throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1952, he was elected to the Radio Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and served as Chairman of The Radio and TV Commission of the convention from 1955 to 1958. He served on the Evangelism Committee 1960-1963. He is a member of Alpha Tau Omega, Tau Kappa Alpha, and the Rotary Club. He was named a Kentucky Colonel in 1953.
Since entering higher education administration, Dr. Ford has served as interim pastor of seventeen churches and in the spring of 1984, was involved in developing a mission of Wieuca Road Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta. He and Mary Helen now hold membership in the Wieuca Road Baptist Church of Atlanta, where their son Tom is a deacon.
Dr. and Mrs. Ford are the parents of three sons, James Thomas Ford, Warren Crockett Ford, and Morris Hughes Ford." - Bobo and Johnson
• During the ministry of Rev. J. T. Ford the church building was remodeled and a two story brick educational building was constructed on the newly acquired property. The sanctuary and educational building are air conditioned throughout." - Taylor
• Bobo and Johnson - First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama: The First 175 Years: 1809 - 1984, by Mildred Burden Bobo and Catherine Ryan Johnson, 1985, pages 118, 121-131, 144, 185, 224, 234, 238, 240-241, 271 & 272 (bio).
• Bobo and Johnson for Heritage book - An article titled "First Baptist Church" submitted by the History Committee, First Baptist and written by Mildred Burden Bobo and Catherine Ryan Johnson for The Heritage of Madison County, Alabama, by The Madison County Heritage Book Committee, John P. Rankin, Chairman, page 18.
• Jones - The First 200 Years (A First Baptist Church History Digest), by Joseph M. Jones, 2010, pages 16 & 17.
• Taylor - Commemorative Album, Celebrating Our City's Sesquicentennial of Progress, Huntsville, Alabama, by James E. Taylor, General Chairman, 1955, page 148.