Williamson AM article

The Tennessean : Williamson AM  


Dr. J. Howard Olds, longtime pastor at Brentwood United Methodist Church who retired recently after battling cancer multiple times, died Wednesday, July 23, 2008.

Known for his booming voice from the pulpit that belied a caring spirit of a small town minister caring for a large flock, Olds was a familiar voice to more than the people who attended Brentwood United Methodist.

Olds reached out over the airwaves with his “Faith Break” messages heard Tuesdays and Thursday on WSIX radio. After delivering a homily about life, and sometimes about his struggle against illness, Olds would end the message with his trademark line, “Make it a good day.”

Olds had been the senior pastor of Brentwood United Methodist since September 2000 before retiring in May after cancer returned. He preached his last sermon at BUMC on June 29, according to Rob Huckaby, administrative pastor at BUMC, who had worked with Olds since 2001.

“I think more than anything Howard’s passion for the church and making a difference in community and the world,” Huckaby said when asked what he had learned while serving alongside Olds. “Howard’s passion was helping people get in touch with their own faith journey and then using that in their community and in the world.”

Olds had a passion for inner city ministry and affordable housing and from his interest the community was led to create the Harvest Hands Community Development in Nashville’s Wedgewood area, Huckaby said.

Harvest Hands is a Christian community development ministry in South Nashville birthed out of BUMC, according to the church’s Web site. Harvest Hands focuses on empowering people and the South Nashville community through leadership and economic development.

“That was a project he visioned and this congregation made it happen,” Huckaby said. “The first thing we did was go down there and buy a crack house and hopefully within the next year, a community center will rise up.”

Olds was the author of three books, “Laughing and Crying Your Way Through Cancer” and “Faithbreaks,” and then earlier this year, he co-authored with Cal Turner Jr., chairman of the Cal Turner Family Foundation and the retired CEO/chairman/president of Dollar General Corp., a book titled “Led to Follow: Leadership Lessons from an Improbable Pastor and a Reluctant CEO.”

While some might have hidden their illness or downplayed it, Olds shared his journey, both the highs and low, with the congregation, Huckaby said.

“Hearing him preach out of his journey and struggle with cancer was an opportunity that not many people have,” Huckaby said. “To hear his struggle but hope and compassion was something I will remember the rest of my life.
“His last sermon title was ‘Don’t Stop.’ I don’t think a pastor in his position could have gone out on a higher note,” Huckaby said.

Before coming to Brentwood United Methodist, Olds was pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Louisville in his native Kentucky.

Born Sept. 4, 1945 to James and Sadie Olds, J. Howard Olds was the youngest of four children. The family shared a modest five-room farm house with no indoor plumbing and an eight-party telephone line that was added when Howard was a young teen. 

Olds’ childhood days were spent attending school — where he excelled — and working the family farm milking cows, raising tobacco and putting up hay and corn, according to a biography provided by the church which was prepared for his retirement.

“His parents lived by the principles of personal responsibility, hard work, and discipline; and they held strong religious views, attending Jonesville Methodist Church three times a week,” it says. “It was in this tiny country church that Howard’s life began to dramatically take shape: where he first experienced a strong sense of belonging, where he committed his life to Christ at age 11, where he often daydreamed of preaching in the pulpit, and where he met his future wife, Sandy. 
By the time Olds graduated from Owen County High School in 1963, he clearly heard God calling, “follow me.”  And he did. 
Olds immediately began his undergraduate work at Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., and a year later, upon Sandy’s graduation from high school, they married on Sept. 19, 1964.

In keeping with his “pedal to the metal” attitude, Olds earned his B.A in philosophy and religion in three years (1966) and then graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with his Master of Divinity (1970). 
During this time Sandy Olds attended college and earned a degree in Elementary Education while her husband served as student-pastor at Woodlawn-Beech Fork United Methodist Church in Bardstown. 

In 1977, Olds went on to receive his Doctorate of Ministry from Lexington Theological Seminary.
From 1970 to 2000, Olds faithfully served four United Methodist churches between Lexington and Louisville, including Eminence (1970-1975), Crestwood (1975-1984), Trinity Hill (1984-1991) and St. Paul (1991-2000). 
“Even in the early years, his preaching style was defined by his larger-than-life presence and booming, lyrical voice passionately calling each to the Gospel message and God’s unending grace,” the biography said. In the late 1990s, his reputation as a dynamic pulpit preacher in the Wesleyan tradition, a lover of great hymns and poetry, and his strong pastoral leadership skills were recognized by many inside and outside the Kentucky Conference.

Almost simultaneously and across the state line in Tennessee, after losing a series of outstanding senior pastors to the episcopacy, Brentwood United Methodist was prayerfully seeking a long term pastor to help lead and grow the church according to God’s will and purpose. And as a result of God’s own work and timing, Olds' willing patience, several cooperating bishops, and a series of unforeseen events, Olds was appointed senior pastor to Brentwood United Methodist Church in 2000. 

Olds’ strong leadership and vision for the church were enthusiastically received and shared by the congregation. Over the past eight years he not only managed to grow the church in membership, but also to successfully complete a major building campaign, implement the Harvest Hands Christian Community Development Project in south Nashville, and refined the church’s vision and purpose in Christ: to love one another radically, make disciples intentionally, serve the poor compassionately and develop leaders humbly. 

“For many in the church, Howard’s galvanizing vision to touch hearts and transform lives to the glory of God has been most powerfully experienced as he has openly battled an acute resurgence of cancer over the past five years,” the biography continued.

“Howard’s fervent prayer that, ‘In my life, Lord, be glorified’ has remained a powerful testimony to the goodness of God, even in the midst of personal anguish and suffering. With God’s strength, Howard boldly proclaims the message of the cross: that God can take the worst in life and use it, transform it, and redeem it, to the way that leads to life and salvation.”

Olds is survived by his wife Sandy and their two sons, Wes and Brad, as well as three grandchildren, Carrie, Ella and Caleb.
Services were held at Brentwood United Methodist Church in Brentwood on Friday, July 25, at 2 p.m.. A second service was held at Crestwood United Methodist Church in Crestwood, Ky., on Saturday, July 26, at 2 pm, Eastern Standard Time.  A private graveside service followed at Floydsburg Cemetary in Crestwood.