By Steve Flowers
Even though there are more Baptists than Methodists in Alabama, historically Methodists have held more of the prominent political posts in the Heart of Dixie. If one looks closely at these leaders’ lives, a good many of our leaders have been sons of Methodist ministers.
The most famous Methodist minister in the state during the last 50 years has been the Rev. John Ed Mathison of Montgomery. He has been the confidant and counselor to a great many of Alabama’s leaders, as well as being the greatest inspirational and dynamic speaker of our time.
John Ed founded and pastored the Frazer United Methodist church in Montgomery. He shepherded his flock in the Capitol City for 36 years.
His younger brother is a similarly 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.
John Ed and George were born to be Methodist ministers. Their father was a renowned Methodist minister.
They were both athletes in college. John Ed and George are both outstanding tennis players.
The First Methodist Church of Dothan is where many of the leaders of the Wiregrass have attended during 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 attorney generals, Bill Baxley and Richmond Flowers, came from First Methodist in Dothan. Congressional candidate and businessman Jeff Coleman is also an active member of this church.
Our legendary United States Senator and Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, Howell Heflin, 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 church. He loved to eat. He would say, “The sacred bird of the Methodist was fried chicken.” The Methodist practice of moving their preachers around caused Heflin to be born outside of Alabama. Heflin 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. Our legendary United States Sens. Lister Hill and John Sparkman were both 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.
Sen. Jeff Sessions is a lifelong, devout Methodist. He even went to the Montgomery Methodist-founded college Huntington. BCA President Katie Britt and her husband Wesley attend the First Methodist Church of Montgomery. Current Chief Justice Tom Parker and his wife, Dottie, attend Frazer United Methodist of Montgomery, the Church made famous by John Ed Mathison.
Congressman Robert Aderholt and his wife, Caroline, met at the Methodist college of 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. Our Governor 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 a good many of our recent state leaders. PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh and her husband, Jeff, are also active members of First Baptist Church of Montgomery. She teaches Sunday School, and Jeff 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 Senator Greg Reed of Jasper is a Baptist. Greg has been a lifelong member of First Baptist Jasper.
Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell is a deacon of his church, Hillcrest Baptist of Maplesville, where his family has attended for generations.
We have a couple of state leaders who are Presbyterians. The two most prominent are our Senior United States Sen. Richard Shelby, and state Treasurer John McMillan.
We have two token Episcopalians: Mobile/Baldwin Congressman Bradley Bryne and the Congressman who preceded him, Jo Bonner, who is currently Governor Ivey’s chief of staff.
In bygone days, if one wanted to be elected to anything in North Alabama, you had to be a member of the Church of Christ. 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.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.