On Monday morning, I was struck—as I’m sure many were—by the sudden and sad news that my friend Greg Brewton, a long-time professor at Southern Seminary, had given up the Ghost. Straight to glory.
A quick perusal on Greg’s Facebook page, which is full of a long list of personal anecdotes about Greg’s remarkable life, reveals what is true: He left behind a wake of immeasurably rich impact in the lives of countless former students and faculty members that spanned his 40 plus years of ministry.
I can’t believe he’s gone. The news is devastating. Heart rending.
Somehow, Greg was a central instrument for God’s providential master web, weaving together so many unique personal stories into a remarkable network of relationships, memories, and love. As a professor and choral mastermind, he was also an amazing conductor of lives: helping lost and lonely students find purpose and relational anchoring.
I was one of those students. My wife and I, as young married early-20-somethings with our first baby on the hip, were completely displaced in Louisville. Shell-shocked by a cross country move that dislodged us from our family and friends, as well as the seismic shifts of a new marriage and child, we were emotionally languishing. That’s when we met Greg and his wife, Holly.
Greg was our elder, small group leader, and fatherly friend. He and Holly welcomed us into their home, loved us as their own, fed us, and wrapped us in wisdom. When we were discouraged, they doled out a generous supply of hugs and counsel. When we veered into self pity—and I can still hear this now—Holly would say, “Well, it only gets harder.”
I taught Sunday school under Greg’s direction, along with my friend Davin (who died of cancer years ago). I hope those boys have already shaken hands and sang a hymn more glorious than any heard this side of eternity.
Greg taught me many lessons, least of which was that you could grill in literally any weather. Thunderstorms did not rule out grilled chicken. More importantly, though, he and Holly modeled a level of selfless service to others that I still can’t wrap my mind around. How they found time to serve the students at Boyce College or Southern is still a mathematical and chronological impossibility. But they did it with such joy and wisdom. Their home was always open and full of weary students like myself.
When our second child was born, Greg and Holly showed up to pray with us. I still remember standing in the hospital hallway, wrapped in their arms, being showered with prayer and love. That moment has forever left an imprint on my soul. They held our children, gave us sage advice, and laughed with us through every twist and turn in the road. They gave me hope—and still do today—about what Christian community could be.
Greg carried a serious load of responsibility in his life, but what I remember, maybe most of all, is that he was so often smiling. I’m not sure we’ll ever be the kind of man Greg was, but we can certainly stand on his shoulders. To say he left a legacy is the understatement of the relatively young century.
Recently, I was conversing on Twitter with my friend, Adam, about the impact Greg had on my life. Adam and I worked together at Valvoline and became good friends through our shared employment there. But I learned something new today from Adam about how we came to know each other:
“Without I wouldn’t know you…He told me the first Sunday I met him that if I needed a job to see his son in law . “The manager is a Christian and you’ll love working for him.” And I did.”
As it turns out, I was that manager, and Greg’s son in law, Josh, was another of my good friends and an assistant manager at the store. Others would be included in that circle, including two other Josh’s and another Adam. A band of brothers, united by one choir director who never stopped being faithful.
I am fond of a John Steinbeck quote in which he said, “It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.”
I can say for certain that Greg’s death has brought no pleasure to the world. Instead great pain and many tears. Why? Because his was a life well lived, fully spent, with ripple effects upon ripple effects that cannot be reasonably measured. In a world in which suffering and selfishness are the expected norm, Greg surprised us all with his Christ-like love, which seemed to have no limit.
I am so grief-stricken that he is gone. But the telos, the aim of his life, terminates exactly where we all need to be: in the arms of our Savior. Until we meet in glory, my friend. Soli Deo Gloria.