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Southern sends out 4th-generation graduate

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — The old maxim “like father, like son” possesses a core truth: Sons tend to resemble their fathers on some detectable level, whether it is their appearance, behavior or vocation.

For Joshua Thomas, a 2012 graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the maxim has held true for four generations. Thomas’ completion of his degree this spring made him a fourth-generation graduate of Southern Seminary.

Thomas’ family history with Southern dates back 100 years to his great-grandfather on his mother’s side, Effie Layton Howerton, who graduated from Southern in 1912. His son, Ellis Paul (E.P.) Howerton, graduated from Southern in 1956. E.P.’s son-in-law and Thomas’ father, James H. Thomas Jr., graduated from the seminary in 1984.

A full century since his great-grandfather’s graduation, Joshua Thomas received his diploma — a master of divinity in the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism’s Great Commission track.

Thomas’ family ties to Southern led him to consider the seminary in 2008 when he made known to his family that he sensed a call to vocational ministry. Thomas’ grandmother, Eunice Howerton, jovially commented to him that “the only real seminary is the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.”

“The Lord has provided and affirmed us being here, through financial provision and ministry opportunities,” Thomas said of his time at Southern.

Effie Layton, the first-generation Southern graduate in Thomas’ family, was a chaplain in the U.S. Army in France during World War I and later pastored First Baptist Church in Pikeville, Ky.

E.P. was a church planter for the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) in Ohio and Kentucky. In Louisville, E.P. served as bivocational pastor of North 42nd Street Baptist Church and a teacher at Barrett Middle School.

Thomas’ father James is a bivocational minister of music at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church in Walhalla, S.C., where Thomas grew up.

James met his wife Martha at South Carolina’s Oconee State Park while serving alongside her brother, Layton Howerton, who was a park missionary. One year later, they married and James went to study religious education and music at Southern.

Joshua Thomas now serves as the development coordinator for institutional advancement at Southern in addition to being an intern for the associate vice president for enrollment management and student services at Southern. Thomas also is the interim elementary coordinator at Highview Baptist Church’s East Campus in Louisville.

Now that he has graduated, Thomas and his wife Deidre hope to work toward the revitalization of Southern Baptist churches in his home state of South Carolina.

“I love the state of South Carolina,” he said. “I want to see South Carolina Southern Baptist churches practice and articulate what they actually believe.”

If his family’s past is any indication of the future, Thomas’ passion for ministry and potential influence may result in further generations of Southern graduates. In fact, Thomas’ brother Matthew plans to enroll in Southern’s Greenville, S.C., extension site this fall.
Josh Hayes is manager of news and information for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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