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Coggin, influential pastor, dead at 86

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–James E. Coggin, an influential pastor in the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary community during his 24 years as pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church, died of cancer Nov. 27 in Fort Worth. He was 86.

Travis Avenue, located a few miles from Southwestern’s campus, was the church home for countless seminarians over the years.

Coggin was a two-time graduate of Southwestern, receiving a master of theology degree in 1946 and a doctor of theology in 1949.

He chaired Southwestern’s board of trustees from 1967-69 and 1981-82 and was honored with the seminary’s distinguished alumni award in 1973. His wife, Carolyn, also a Southwestern graduate, received the alumni award in 1993.

In the Southern Baptist Convention, Coggin was president of the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in 1965, first vice president of the SBC in 1972 and a member of the former Radio & Television Commission.

Travis Avenue’s current senior pastor, Michael Dean, reflected on Coggin’s influence in comments prepared for an upcoming edition of the church’s newsmagazine.

“I admire the ‘weight’ of his soul,” Dean noted. “He possessed a depth of wisdom that comes from deep communion with God and a strong faith forged in the fires of adversity.

“I admire the legacy of faith that is being passed through the generations of the Coggin family,” Dean continued. “Dr. Coggin was truly like the godly man in Psalm 1: ‘He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.’ His devotion as a husband, father and grandfather serves as a powerful pattern for us all.”

And Dean said he admired the shepherd’s heart that Coggin had. “He was truly an example to the flock of all the remarkable qualities of Christlikeness evidenced in the fruit of the Spirit,” Dean wrote. “Like the Good Shepherd, Dr. Coggin laid down his life for the sheep in so many different ways. We are all closer to God because of his life and ministry among us.”

At Coggin’s funeral Nov. 30, one of his daughters, Lyn McDonald, read a poem she once had written for her father. Among the lines:

“He cannot tinker with a car

Or fix the plumbing line,

But harder matters of the heart

Are where he does just fine.

He doesn’t make things with his hands

He cannot turn a screw,

Nurturing and mending broken hearts

Are things that he can do.”

“Dr. Coggin was a consistent friend and marvelous supporter of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an ardent advocate of the city of Fort Worth,” Paige Patterson, Southwestern’s president, said in a seminary news release. “His years as pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church and his trusteeship at Southwestern were memorable years of humble service to Christ and to the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Copies of Coggin’s book, “What’s the Difference?” explaining differences between Baptists and other denominations, were distributed to all seminary students in 1968 as a courtesy by interested laymen. The book’s two major divisions, What Baptists Believe and What Others Believe, addressed such topics as the Bible, the Trinity, salvation, baptism, the ordinances and Baptist heritage.

Before accepting the Travis Avenue pastorate in 1959, Coggin had led churches in four Texas locations, Texarkana, Memphis, Annona and Nevada, and in Blanchard, Okla.

Coggin was born in Tupelo, Miss., the youngest of 10 children, and was baptized at age 9 at Springhill Avenue Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. He was ordained to the ministry in 1940 at Courtland Baptist Church in Courtland, Ala, and earned an undergraduate degree from Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham, Ala., in 1943.

He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Carolyn; three daughters, Olivia Eudaly, Rebekah Hyde and Lyn McDonald; eight grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Compiled by Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press, with reporting by Keith Collier, a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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