Please note that there was a typo in yesterday’s post, and that the correct death year for Dr. Carl McIntire was 2002, not 2005. That error was corrected yesterday evening. Our apologies for not catching it prior to posting.
Many years ago when a slim lad came to preach in Birmingham, he was “Mr. Bryan”; as the years passed an honorary title was prefixed and they called him “Doctor”; but this was many years ago, for long since the “Mister” and the “Doctor” have gone into discard and for the multitudes in and around Birmingham he is “Brother Bryan.” It was his own way of speaking to others. Christ had made all men, white and black, native born and immigrant, poor and rich, his brothers. He called them all “Brother,” and men realizing how truly he meant it fastened the name “Brother” to him. He is “Brother Bryan of Birmingham,” the brother beloved of all.
Do you know Brother Bryan? No?. Then you do not live in Birmingham, Alabama, for everyone in that great industrial city knows Brother Bryan. His stooped shoulders, Christlike face, and gentle voice are the best known in all the city. He is pastor of about the smallest church in Birmingham, but his parish is by far the largest. Among all the ministers he has had the longest pastorate, retiring from his pulpit finally after fifty-two years of service in one church. If you look in the denominational year book, you will find him listed as pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church, but all these years his church has been more or less a tethering post, allowing him to roam over the whole city in the service of Christ.
About statistics or bookkeeping he knows nothing, but since in Birmingham he makes good print, a newspaper some years ago put a reporter out to estimate in figures the reach of his ministry. After many hours spent over church, county, and city records, the reporter wrote for the Birmingham Post on November 5, 1926, the following estimate of Brother Bryan’s thirty-seven years and five months pastorate :
“He has married 4,589 couples
officiated at 7,926 funerals
preached 49,120 times
led 7,627 to a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.”
The Rev. James Alexander Bryan, Presbyterian minister, was born March 20, 1863, near Kingstree, Williamsburg County, S. C; a son of John Robert and Mary M. (Savage) Bryan. He received his early schooling in Williamsburg County, S. C, was taught by his mother, and sent to Old Lovejoy Academy, Raleigh, N. C, for preparation to enter the University of North Carolina. He was graduated from the latter institution, 1885; received two scholarships to Princeton, and was graduated from the course in theology there, B. D., 1889.
With $1.85 in his pocket young Bryan arrived at Princeton in September, 1886, to begin his theological course. The three years at Princeton were a great experience for the young man from South Carolina. At that time Princeton was in her glory with such stalwart intellectuals as Dr. William H. Green, Dr. Casper Wistar Hodge, Dr. Francis L. Patton, Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield, Dr. John D. Davis, and others upon her faculty. The piety of the slim young Southerner brought to him the name “The Saint,” which after years has proven to have been well placed. The characteristics so marked in later years began to express themselves in these seminary days. Writing forty-five years afterwards, one of his seminary friends said, “I always felt that he was a modern St. Francis of Assisi. His Christlike spirit and his untiring devotion to his Master in the service of His children have been an inspiration to me always.” His recreation during these wonderful days was long walks with student friends along the beautiful roads leading into the country from Princeton, and on these long walks young Bryan revealed his deep spiritual nature to his intimate friends.
He became pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church at Birmingham in 1889, and held that charge for fifty-two years in all (1941). Twice he was sent to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern) by the Presbytery of North Alabama, and also served as moderator of the Presbytery of North Alabama. He devoted his spare time to preaching outside of his church, and held meetings in Birmingham among the firemen, policemen, factory people, railroaders, and students. He conducted evangelistic work in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi. He was as well a Prohibitionist.
Words to Live By:
Would you change your world? Here in Brother Bryan we find one great example of how to go about that work.
The Brother Bryan Mission continues this dear pastor’s work, as does the Third Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, Alabama. Remarkably, this church, organized in 1884, has had only three pastors in its one hundred thirty-one years of existence:
James A. Bryan, 1889-1941
James S. Cantell, 1941-1978
Richard C. Trucks, 1978-current: