Posted Online: Dec. 07, 2012, 9:00 am

Baptist pastor gets the last word in on Christmas Eve

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By Leon Lagerstam,

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Photo: Paul Colletti
After 44 years in the ministry, the Rev. Mel Brown is retiring from Edgewood Baptist Church in Rock Island.
ROCK ISLAND -- After sharing nearly 15,000 messages, the Rev. Dr. Mel Brown will give his last sermon as Edgewood Baptist Church's leader on Christmas Eve.

"I'm at 14,800 and counting,'' he said. ''But when I wish people a Merry Christmas at the end of the 6 p.m. service on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, it will mean I'm stepping off the platform for the final time.''

Rev. Brown, 69, came to Edgewood Baptist Church 44 years ago. He figures he's done 600 to 700 funerals, and who knows how many weddings.

He said one of the biggest changes he's seen over the years is how massive the church has become.

When he first arrived in the Quad-Cities, Edgewood met in a smaller building at 8th Avenue and 44th Street, where the Rock Island Evening Lions Club now meets, he said.''I came here alone. I had no assistants, no secretaries, only a part-time custodian.

''It was a small, struggling church that was in rough financial shape, with a budget of $45,000 for the whole year, but deep in debt,'' he said. ''Now we have about 1,500 people and a $1.3 million budget. We have eight pastors, four secretaries and four custodians.

''We have 70 ministries, but we're still small enough to know everybody,'' Rev. Brown said. ''We've also trained 15 missionaries and pastors who serve all over the world.''

He's equally as proud of a vast number of children's homes, orphanages and feeding centers Edgewood Baptist sponsors around the globe.

The large church on sprawling grounds, at2704 38th St., and all its programs matched a vision he had when he started, but didn't materialize without a lot of doubts, Rev. Brown said.

''It was really discouraging in those early years,'' he said. So much so, that after his first summer at Edgewood, he returned to his home church and mentoring pastor in Hammond, Ind., thinking his mentor would confirm it was time to move on, ''but that's not what happened,'' Rev. Brown said.

''Instead, he told me that was why God sent me there, and told me to go back and roll up my sleeves, get to work and get the job done,'' he said.

''After 10 years, everything really turned around, and we continued to do well until all of the plant closings of the 1980s, when so many people lost their jobs and had to move away,'' he said.

''The area lost about 50,000 people, and Edgewood lost about 250 people, and they were church leaders and teachers, who suddenly had to go away.''

It was another time when Rev. Brown wondered whether ''God was saying it was time to move on or not.''

A visit to a local businessman whose company was flourishing despite the economic downturn convinced Rev. Brown to again roll up his sleeves and get back to work.

He said he asked the businessman how difficult it was to keep his business afloat, and was told ''hey, there are still 350,000 people here who need our services.

''I went away from that meeting feeling lifted up and renewed,'' Rev. Brown said. ''I shared his attitude that there were still 350,000 people in the Quad-Cities, many of whom are unchurched, who needed our services, too.''

So he stayed, and Edgewood continued to flourish.

''Pastoring a church is easier now than when I started,'' he said.For example, technology makes sermon-preparations and deliveries easier.

What he's learned during his 50-year ministry career also has helped, and is something he wants to share with young pastors starting their careers.

At a recent pastors' meeting, Rev. Brown shared a message titled ''Things I Never Learned in Seminary,'' and has written a manual for pastors and missionaries that ''so many have requested copies of,'' he said.

After retiring, Rev. Brown plans to continue teaching new pastors and missionaries, inspired in part by some discouraging statistics.

"According to recent statistics, 50 percent of pastors get so discouraged they want to leave the ministry," he said. ''Seventy percent say they are depressed, and 80 percent say they feel discouraged.''

Marriages end for about 50 percent of pastors, Rev. Brown said. "And 90 percent say education they've gotten from Bible colleges or seminaries are fair or poor.''

Another startling statistic he cited was that 22 percent of all pastors will be fired from the ministry. Another is thatthe average stay of a pastor at a church is about 3.2 years, making his 44-year stay at Edgewood even more noteworthy.

''But I certainly never expected to be here this long,'' Rev. Brown said.

He started out in business -- ''graphic arts was my field'' -- until he said he felt called to the ministry. He later pursued higher-education degrees in counseling ''to be better able to help people with their needs.

''I went back to school to study counseling because there were so many people with serious problems,'' including people who felt suicidal or who were having marital difficulties.

''Sadly, there have been a lot of moral failures on the part of other pastors'' that have given the public a poor view of the ministry, but for every one who has done something wrong, there are seven or eight pastors doing a wonderful job, Rev. Brown said.

"As for me, I am ready for the next chapter in my life, and have prepared for it as best I can,'' he said.

He's also prepared to preach on "the mission of Jesus Christ" at his last service on Christmas Eve, before beginning his new mission in life.

The Rev. Dr. Mel Brown
Address: Moline.
Birth date: Oct. 13, 1943.
Education: Purdue University, majoring in industrial management; Evangel University, Springfield, Mo., majoring in communications; Bachelor's of Theology degree from Baptist Bible College, Springfield, Mo.; master's degree in counseling from Western Illinois University; doctorate degree in counseling from Northern Illinois University.
Hometown: Born in Evergreen Park, Ill., but was raised in Hammond, Ind.
Family: Wife, Barbara; three kids, Lori Kimmel, a math and science teacher at Fillmore School in Davenport; Cheryl Brown, a foot surgeon in Crystal Lake; and son, Timothy Brown, a lawyer in Crystal Springs; six grandchildren, including four adopted from China.
Favorite Scripture: Colossians 1:18.
Favorite Biblical character I'd like to meet: Jesus.
Hobbies: Reading, spending time with family.
One thing I feel strongly about: Meeting peoples' needs. There are a lot of hurting people out there.
I wish I knew how to: Sing.