The Rev. Larry Brown, founder of Victory Baptist Church, received a massive salute from neighbors far and near Sunday morning, as the congregation expressed thanks for his 44 years as pastor and also welcomed Brown's successor, the Rev. C.T. Townsend.
Brown founded the Martintown Road congregation in 1975, buoyed by his wife, Diane, and welcomed his successor in Sunday morning's worship service, with Townsend's formal installation, in the company of Townsend's wife, Becky, and their kids, Tucker, 9; Syler, 5; and Everlee, whose fourth birthday will be next week.
"Keep digging" was a theme of the day (based on Genesis 26:18), with regard to calling on tried and true resources from an earlier generation. The central verse reads, in part, "And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father."
Brown, who has been slowed by Parkinson's disease in recent months, established the congregation in 1975. Townsend, a native of West Virginia, is a longtime associate of Victory, having Brown among his spiritual mentors from years ago.
Among the high-profile guests was Rep. Bill Hickson, who shared some memories from years ago, as did other several other speakers who offered comments via video.
Hixon, referring to Brown, recalled, "You had more energy than anybody I've ever seen – jumped over a rail several times – and I got scared. The first time you started hitting the pulpit with the Bible, I said, 'Wow! This guy's serious about the word,' and he preached a funeral one day, and that was the first time I'd ever been to a funeral where you asked people come that wanted to be saved, and that was a wonderful thing."
Turning toward Townsend, Hixon smiled and added, "You've got your hands full. He's got such big shoes, you might have to put two on one foot, but anyway, I'm proud of you."
The legislator also noted that he plans to arrange for a resolution, from the state legislature, in Brown's honor, to acknowledge his decades of service.
Mayor Bob Pettit made similar comments, acknowledging the importance of service and leadership, and also read from a proclamation in honor of Brown's retirement. He touched on congregational growth from "nine to more than ... 4,500 people," with massive campus expansion to meet the growing need, including the addition of educational programs to serve neighbors from pre-school through adult life, in addition to establishing outreach in such arenas as prisons, nursing homes, day-care facilities, rescue missions and the military.
Townsend said, "Outside my salvation, the single best decision of my entire life was moving to North Augusta. I've been walking around these buildings, crying all week ... It's here I met my wife. This man of God took me in like a son and trained me and poured his life into me."
Townsend expressed thanks for Brown and recalled vacuuming the church's carpets, along with handling other jobs while never having the idea that the road might lead to Sunday's occurrence, including the chance for leadership at Victory, to use that forum "to tell the best news in the whole wide world, and that is that God can save anybody, anywhere, anytime."
He added, "We're going to keep on digging for the glory of God. We're going to keep on digging for the cause of Christ. I want to make God proud. I want to make Brother Brown proud. I want to make all of y'all proud that we're doing something for the cause of Christ."
Several Victory members, one day before the worship service, accepted an invitation to share some thoughts on the congregation and on Brown's decades of service in particular. Music ministry, warm welcomes and the word "transparent" came up several times, as congregation members credited the pastor with reflecting "the genuineness" that is largely evident at Victory, in the words of Donna Gibbs, of Evans, Georgia.
Ginger Davis said she and her husband, Ron, both have "so much admiration and respect for him, for everything he's done to build and grow that church, and now to transition that church over to someone that he taught, that came through the church and grew up there in the church."
Referring to Townsend, she said, "He has such a tremendous evangelical presence and now he's coming back home to serve in the church. We're so excited about watching what happens."
Cindy Tesch, whose son, Josh, is the choir director, recalled that Brown, years ago, would "wear a white suit and would jump over the pews and shout and holler."
"Never a dull moment with Preacher Brown," she said, pointing out that his messages and the theme of his overall ministry are based on "the grace and mercy of God."
"He came from not growing up in a Christian home whatsoever, and he got saved at the age of 21," she said, recalling that Brown was a mechanic and was hugely touched by the preaching of the Rev. Edward McAbee, who died in July and was known largely for more than 50 years of service at Northside Baptist Church, in Gaffney.
Referring to Brown and his preaching style, Tesch said, "We know that he's only being filled by the Holy Spirit, and that's who's talking to us when he preaches."
Gibbs recalled an incident from about three years ago involving herself and her husband. "When we walked into Victory, we just felt the love, the genuineness. They love on you, they care for you and the music is incredible. You have the freedom to worship the Lord," she said, citing such instances as people who clap along or a woman who ran laps (in the worship area) during a worship service.
"He has a dynamic personality," added Tera Velasco, referring to Brown. She said she and her husband, Robert, have been on board with Victory for about 15-16 years.
The longtime pastor is "very much after the soul-winning," she added. "You can tell ... his mission is to win souls. He's definitely not shy."
She also described him as "very compassionate and caring," and added, "I really have enjoyed being under his leadership and hearing him spread the word ... He's been a blessing for our family."