Thursday, May 17, 2007
If you were lucky enough to know Dr. Nunan
What with being posted online and accessible by Google and other search engines, The South Reporter is a marvel of communication. People far and near can and do read what is published in these pages. For that reason, I am hopeful that someone reading my words just now will remember and be thankful for the life and ministry of the Rev. Russell Nunan, an elderly friend who passed away recently. If it was not your privilege to know him, please read on, for his story is a challenge and inspiration.
Born in Atlanta, March 22, 1907, Dr. Nunan was a graduate of Davidson College in North Carolina and Union Seminary in Virginia. He was minister of the Greenville church (1946-1960), after which he was executive of the Presbytery of New Orleans (a regional governing body). He returned to Mississippi as pastor in Grenada, serving there from 1969 until 1972.
The longest of his ministries came after his formal retirement when he moved back to Greenville, opened a not-for-profit counseling center, and served our churches at Benoit and Rosedale (1972-1999). The fact that a man of his stature and influence would render such humble service (the Presbyterian congregations at Benoit and Rosedale, while full of good and intelligent people, each numbered fewer than 25 members), gives you a clue as to the self-giving nature of this generous and gregarious minister.
Some readers may remember him from his role as a military chaplain. Twice during his pastoral career, he took leave of his congregations and went on active duty. During his years as a navy chaplain, he and a colleague adapted the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous for use in the military and convinced the commanding authorities to begin treating alcoholism not as a crime but a disease. He was active in establishing AA chapters wherever he served.
He did other things too. In Greenville he was instrumental in establishing Calvary Presbyterian Church, a racial-ethnic congregation that still serves to this day. He was the first ministerial chaplain of the Mississippi Firefighter’s Burn Center in Greenville and later spearheaded the development of “Lighthouse Lodge,” which housed and ministered to families of patients receiving care at the burn center. He led in establishing the Delta Mental Health and Retardation Clinic in Greenville.
Many church ladies will remember him as the longtime minister-advisor to the Presbyterian Women of North Mississippi. And when he died he left most of his estate to the Greenville church and our Camp Hopewell, near Oxford.
I could go on, but you get my point. So much so, that when Louise Hester of Benoit penned a loving biography of Dr. Nunan, she chose as the single word, “Inasmuch.” It is the initial word of a Bible verse Dr. Nunan quoted so frequently as he was urging people in the support of this or that worthwhile cause, that his friends knew what was to follow: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” The quotation comes from Jesus, and while Dr. and Mrs. Nunan were part of a grand building program in Greenville, he made sure that everyone knew and remembered that the church was built to serve others, and not simply for the comfort of its members.
As I say, I am not sure how many who see these words may have known Dr. Nunan, but his message and example were universal. If you did not know him, I hope his ministry may be continued through these paragraphs. If you did know him, I would be delighted to hear from you. We were inspired by a wonderful mentor and friend.
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