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Thom Tapp, ‘Covered Dish’ cartoonist, dies

KINGSTON, Tenn. (BP) — Thomas “Thom” Tapp, one of Baptist Press’ featured cartoonists for 15 years, died June 11 in Kingston, Tenn.

Tapp, a pastor who drew and penned the “Church of the Covered Dish,” died of liver cancer at age 65.

His Church of the Covered Dish led by pastor “Eli Chortlesnort” first appeared in 1997 in the Baptist and Reflector, Tennessee Baptists’ newsjournal, and became part of Baptist Press’ comics lineup in 2000.
“His humor lived through Bro. Eli,” Baptist and Reflector editor Lonnie Wilkey wrote of Tapp in a tribute column. “The cartoon provided an honest look at Baptist churches, ministers and laity through the lens of humor. … Thom took us through things that a minister (especially those who serve smaller churches) deals with on a daily basis.”

Surgery to remove a brain tumor in 1987 birthed the Church of the Covered Dish.

Tapp began drawing church-oriented cartoons to pass the time — at a point when he didn’t know “if I would ever … have a sense of humor again,” he said in an interview with Wilkey in 1998.

“The cartoons became a vehicle for mental healing,” helping him “to not take everything so seriously.”

Humor is important, he said, because the world sometimes paints Christians as humorless. “I believe the Christian life is a happy life and we should have humor and fun in our life,” he said, using Proverbs 17:22 to back up his outlook: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine….”

In some ways, Tapp said, he is Eli Chortlesnort. “Almost everything that happens to me in the pastorate will end up in a comic strip,” he told Wilkey.

“In most of my cartoons there is some element of truth in them somewhere underneath the surface,” he said. “The cartoons take the real and exaggerate it to the humorous.”

Tapp, a native of Springfield, Tenn., who entered the ministry at age 30, led Oral Baptist Church in Lenoir City for 19 years before retiring last year, having previously pastored three other Tennessee churches.

The name for his cartoon stemmed from the frequent covered dish meals at Oral Baptist. “I kidded our members that we were the Church of the Covered Dish,” he told Wilkey.

Tapp’s cartoons spread from the Baptist and Reflector and from Baptist Press to dozens of countries and to such periodicals as Leadership Journal, Preaching and Ministry Today.

Two compilations of Tapp’s cartoons are available through Barnes and Noble online: “Church of the Covered Dish 1” and “Church of the Covered Dish – A Second Helping.”

Prior to developing the Church of the Covered Dish, Tapp had drawn editorial cartoons for the Roane County News in Kingston, Tenn., while serving as a bivocational pastor. He had always enjoyed expressing himself through cartoons, quipping to Wilkey, “I have never been able to feel comfortable with ‘real art.'”

Wilkey, in his tribute to Tapp after his death, noted that “those who knew him well won’t forget his friendship and the love he had for his Lord and the people he served.”

Tapp is survived by his wife Gail of 45 years, three children and four grandchildren. His funeral was June 14 at First Baptist Church in Kingston.

For Baptist Press’ archive of Tapp’s cartoons, click here.