Even though there are more Baptists than Methodists in Alabama, the latter have historically held more of the prominent political posts in the Heart of Dixie. If you look closely at our leaders’ lives, a good many of them have been sons of Methodist ministers.
The most famous Methodist minister in the state over the past 50 years has been the Rev. John Ed Mathison of Montgomery. He has been the confidant and counselor to many of Alabama’s leaders, as well as being the greatest inspirational and most dynamic speaker of our time. Mathison founded and pastored Frazer United Methodist Church in Montgomery, shepherding his flock in the capital city for 36 years.
His younger brother also is a remarkable man. The Rev. George Mathison served numerous churches in Alabama; however, he is best known for being the minister of the First Methodist Church of Auburn, where he was their beloved pastor for 26 years. His flock referred to him as “Brother George.”
The Mathisons were born to be Methodist ministers. Their father was a renowned Methodist minister. They also were athletes in college, both outstanding tennis players.
The First Methodist Church of Dothan is where many of the leaders of the Wiregrass have attended over the years. Dr. Mike Watson has been a leader in the Methodist Church throughout his illustrious career. He recently retired as a bishop of the Methodist Church. He and his wife, Margaret, grew up in the First Methodist Church of Dothan. Two Alabama attorneys general, Bill Baxley and Richmond Flowers, came from First Methodist in Dothan. Jeff Coleman, a congressional candidate and businessman, is an active member of that congregation.
Howell Heflin, our late legendary U.S. senator and former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, was the son of a Methodist minister. Heflin was a master storyteller and, having grown up in the Methodist Church, was an active layman in the denomination. Loving a good meal, he would say, “The sacred bird of the Methodist was fried chicken.”
The denomination’s practice of moving its preachers around caused Heflin to be born outside Alabama. He would say, “My father was over in Georgia doing missionary work among the heathen.”
Alabama’s most prominent and prolific political icon, George Wallace, was a Methodist. Two other legendary U.S. senators, Lister Hill and John Sparkman, were Methodists.
State Rep. Steve Clouse has been a member of First Methodist in Ozark his entire life. State Rep. Bill Poole and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox are members of the First Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle is a Methodist, and his grandfather was a Methodist minister.
Former Sen. Jeff Sessions is a lifelong Methodist, and he went to Methodist-founded Huntingdon College in Montgomery.
Katie Britt, president of the Business Council of Alabama, and her husband, Wesley, attend the First Methodist Church of Montgomery. State Chief Justice Tom Parker and his wife, Dottie, attend Frazer United Methodist of Montgomery, the church made famous by John Ed Mathison.
U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt and his wife, Caroline, met at a Methodist school, Birmingham Southern College, and were married in the Methodist church, but are now Anglicans.
The Baptists have been taking their rightful place at the head of the table in recent years. Gov. Kay Ivey is a Baptist. She attends First Baptist Church of Montgomery. The legendary pastor there, Jay Wolfe, has been the confidant and pastor to many recent state leaders. Twinkle Cavanaugh, president of the Alabama Public Service Commission, and her husband, Jeff, also are active members there. She teaches Sunday school, and he is a deacon.
Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth is a Baptist and has been a youth leader in his church. Secretary of State John Merrill is an active member of Calvary Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa. State Sen. Greg Reed has been a lifelong member of First Baptist Church in Jasper. Jimmy Parnell, Alabama Farmers Federation president, is a deacon of his church, Hillcrest Baptist of Maplesville, which his family has attended for generations.
We have a couple of state leaders who are Presbyterians. The two most prominent are our senior U.S. senator, Richard Shelby, and our state treasurer, John McMillan.
We have two Episcopalians, U.S. Rep. Bradley Bryne of Mobile/Baldwin County, and the congressman who preceded him, Jo Bonner, who is currently Ivey’s chief of staff.
In bygone days, if you wanted to be elected to anything in north Alabama, you had to be a member of the Church of Christ. Not so much today. The only member of that church today who is a prominent state political leader is state Sen. Jabo Waggoner Jr., who represents an over-the-mountain, Birmingham silk-stocking district.
Steve Flowers’ weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He can be reached at www.steveflowers.us.
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