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Dr. John M. Finley, formerly pastor of the First Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia and a historian, is the executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society.

Executive Editor’s Note:

On July 1, 2017, I began my new role as executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, succeeding Bruce Gourley who faithfully served since 2010. I offer here a few words of personal introduction along with some thoughts on the importance of our work together.

I am a native of St. Louis and was shaped in my early years by both American Baptist and Southern Baptist congregations. Following high school I enrolled at Vanderbilt University as a first-year engineering student before changing my major to religious studies.

While in Nashville I came under the influence of superb professors, including Old Testament scholar Walter Harrelson, and a host of denominational leaders at the Baptist Sunday School Board and the several Southern Baptist Convention agencies. Also, while in Nashville, I met Norma Vaughan, a student at Belmont College. Following our graduations from our respective schools in 1976, we married and then enrolled as M.Div. students at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

While in Louisville I fell in love with Baptist history. Walter Shurden became my mentor and eventually the supervisor of my Ph.D. program, but I was also heavily influenced by the rest of the church history department: E. Glenn Hinson, Bill Leonard, and Timothy George. During my seminary years I served as Dr. Shurden’s teaching fellow and taught as an adjunct professor at Simmons University, a predominantly African-American Bible college. I also served two student pastorates: an open country American Baptist congregation founded in 1824 near Deputy, Indiana, and a new Southern Baptist church start in Bloomfield, Kentucky.

Following seminary I had dreamed of returning to Nashville and working for one of the Southern Baptist agencies; however, that turned out to be a dream deferred largely because of Baptist denominational conflict taking place in the 1980s. Instead, I invested my life in local parish ministry.

For the next thirty-plus years I served two congregations in Georgia as senior minister: a post-suburban church in metropolitan Atlanta, and from 1994 to 2017, the historic First Baptist Church of Savannah, where I counted among my several predecessors Henry Holcombe, William Bullein Johnson, and Norman W. Cox. In each of the churches I have served I found that a sense of Baptist history provided not only an awareness of the larger denominational tradition, but also the unique context and identity of the individual congregation shaping its present and future ministry.

Looking to the future, I expect that each summer the Society will continue to sponsor its annual conference, which emphasizes the importance of an ongoing analysis of Baptist history. We will maintain the excellence of the Journal by offering peer-reviewed articles; papers from our annual conferences; and book reviews of interest to professional historians, scholarly pastors and staff ministers, and laypersons. And we hope very soon to provide a redesigned website along with new resources in Baptist history specifically geared to help local congregations.

Although I have been a member of the Baptist History and Heritage Society for the past forty years, I am thrilled to embark upon this new relationship as executive diretor. Truth to tell, it feels like I have come home to the place where I belong. The following lines from T. S. Eliot’s poem, “Little Gidding,” are especially good words as I begin my new role with the Society:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Dr. Finley may be contacted by email.

riley_2015Jackie Riley is the Baptist History and Heritage Society Office Manager.  Jackie has prior experience as managing editor for Baptists Today news journal and as an editor for Smyth & Helwys Publishing.

Jackie can be contacted by email or phone (478-297-7838).

The BH&HS is governed by a Board of Directors