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JACKSONVILLE (FBW)–Longtime Florida Baptist partners in ministry, John Sullivan and Jim Tatum, each were honored with the Homer Linday Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award in the final session of the 26th annual Jacksonville Pastors’ Conference Jan. 27 at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville.
Mac Brunson, senior pastor of the church, presented dual awards to Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, and to Bernice Tatum who received it posthumously for her husband Jim who died last year.
It is the sixth year the awards have been presented.
Jim Tatum, a retired Jacksonville business and member of First Baptist, was known as the “suit man” for his ministry providing suits to preachers and missionaries free and at discounted rates.
Calling Sullivan, also a member of the church, “perhaps the greatest statesman in Southern Baptist life,” Brunson said Tatum was Sullivan’s “good partner in ministry.”
Narrating a video, “The preacher and the suit man,” Sullivan talked warmly about a man he considered one of his closest friends. He said Tatum was a devoted man of God, a “magnificent Sunday School teacher,” and one who “loved people,” including all of the children he and his wife adopted.
“It’s important to have a close friend, one you can trust with your deepest feelings, your deepest understanding with where you are in life and how you see your ministry,” Sullivan told pastors. “Jim and I could talk about any subject at any time and we’d always know when we walked away from that conversation we’d heard the truth; and as a result of that it was a friendship that took on a deep, deep abiding meaning.”
Sullivan said Tatum had two things that drew them close in partnership and spurred Tatum to develop a clothing business after a conviction that preachers needed suits to improve their appearance.
“We liked to look nice” and “we had a natural affinity for the nation of Haiti,” Sullivan said.
After the Florida Baptist Convention began ministry in Haiti 16 years ago and planted about 2,000 churches—“Jim loved that”—the Convention developed theological education in the country as well, according to Sullivan. “The thing that Jim loved about it is that we got money together and we would buy the suits, the shirts, and ties for every graduate,” Sullivan said. “The last project he put together was for our graduates in 2012.”
The video featured a photo of the 145 graduates of the theological school in Haiti, with Sullivan standing in the center. All were dressed in matching suits, shirts and ties. Sullivan said Tatum did not keep a record of how many suits he provided through his ministry. “It would be a staggering number,” Sullivan anticipated.
Talking about his own ministry for just a few minutes in the video, Sullivan, who has led Florida Baptists since 1989, said when God called him in 1955 to preach, he had never been in Sunday School or church. “I could not have imagined how God could use someone like me, somebody like that,” he said.
Referring to his wife, Nancy, who led him to the Lord two months after they were married in 1955, Sullivan said she “has been everything.”
“I have the most patient wife that God ever allowed to live and God knew that I needed a very patient wife,” Sullivan said. “Nancy has been everything in my life. I could not have made it without her. I have a wonderful wife, three wonderful children, five even more wonderful grandchildren, and a great friend like Jim Tatum.”
Sullivan has preached in at least 30 state conventions, during evangelism conferences, at state conventions, and at statewide meetings. He received his doctor of ministry degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth in 1973 and has pastored churches in Louisiana, Texas, and Arizona. He is active in denominational service and served as the Southern Baptist Convention parliamentarian 1986-96. He was a member of the SBC’s Peace Committee 1986-88.
Sullivan preached Sunday morning, Jan. 27, at First Baptist Church Jacksonville’s South Campus on the doctrine of “Consummation.”
Brunson, in presenting the award to Tatum’s wife, Bernice, recalled how he would be surprised sometimes when preaching to pastors, to see Jim Tatum sitting out in the audience. Until Tatum reminded him he came to dress the preachers.
“We love him and we love you,” Brunson told Bernice Tatum.
To Sullivan, Brunson said: “Here’s an award to a man I admire and respect more than you know—and to his dear wife—and I’m proud to be your pastor.”
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