Inspired by ‘Tuck’ Hudgins

Published 12:44 pm Saturday, May 2, 2009

Editor’s note: This column originally was published on March 23, 2008. It is reprinted in memory of the late Ira “Tuck” Hudgins, whose memorial service was scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Franklin Baptist Church.

One doesn’t have to be a preacher’s kid to appreciate Tuck Hudgins.

But if I have a little extra admiration for Franklin Baptist Church’s pastor emeritus, who climbed into the pulpit and delivered a sermon two Sundays ago at the ripe age of 90, perhaps it’s the product of my upbringing.

The son of one who devoted his life to the ministry for a half-century, I know something of a preacher’s life — enough, certainly, to understand that the Rev. Ira Durwood “Tuck” Hudgins is a rarity among clergymen.

For starters, I haven’t seen many 90-year-olds fill the pulpit. My own father retired — for good, we think — a year ago at age 74, in part because of the physical demands of the job. Truth is, most of us would be happy to simply make it to 90 with a sound mind. To get there — and still have the physical and mental vigor, like Hudgins, to prepare and deliver a sermon — is inspiring.

Hudgins is special, however, for more reasons than his stamina and longevity.

Fifty-seven years ago, Franklin Baptist called Hudgins — then a minister and graduate student in Pennsylvania — to be its pastor. He and his wife, Janet, moved to Franklin in 1951 — and never left. Hudgins led Franklin Baptist until his retirement from full-time ministry in 1983.

Thirty-two years of service to one church is unusual. My experience as a preacher’s kid covered five churches in four communities during the 18 years I lived with my parents. The denomination of my adulthood — the United Methodist Church — moves its preachers around every year or two.

Given the politics and petty conflicts that plague many churches (I’ve seen squabbles and near-splits over everything from carpet color to deacon elections), Hudgins’ three-plus decades at Franklin Baptist is a tribute to him and to his congregation.

Finally, Hudgins is unique for his five-plus decades of service and devotion to his community.

Pastors have demanding jobs. Tending a flock — especially one the size of Franklin Baptist — is a 24-7 obligation. One wouldn’t blame a pastor for cherishing — and even being a bit selfish with — his “free time.”

Hudgins, though, always gave generously of his time and talents to good causes in the community, whether or not they involved his church. Even a quarter-century into retirement, he remains very much a man about town, doing good works for the community he and his wife chose to make their permanent home. During a recent one-week stretch, I encountered Tuck at three different community functions, still giving cheerfully to causes he holds dear.

“Tuck and Janet Hudgins Day” was, by all accounts, a grand day at Franklin Baptist. In writing this column, I resisted the urge to call it Hudgins’ final sermon — for something tells me we might just see him back in the pulpit at 95.