Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church will honor its longtime pastor, Rev. John Wesley Brewster, Jr. with a celebratory banquet Sept. 8, 2018 at the Asheville Event Center’s grand ballroom.
For 30 years Rev. Brewster has been preaching the Word at the church, located at 56 Walton Street. The banquet will feature the well-known gospel traveling band the Weston Brothers, based in Asheville, and several ministers renowned throughout North Carolina will pay a special tribute to Rev. Brewster.
Rev. Brewster grew up during the 1940s and ’50s in the segregated rural town of Village Springs, Alabama. It was clear to him even as a small child that there were two parts of Village Springs: the white section just across the railroad tracks, lined with spacious, Victorian-style homes, and the black section of shotgun houses, dirt yards, and potbelly stoves that served as the only heating source for most families.
Rev. Brewster reminisced, “My mom and dad did not have much in the form of material wealth, but, to me, we were millionaires. My mom could take a dollar bill and feed us for a whole week. My dad worked as a laborer to support four children and a wife. My mom and dad believed in an honest day’s work.”
They believed, as did so many African Americans in Village Springs and other small towns, that if they worked hard and did right by people, one day they could achieve the American dream of owning a home, a vehicle, a bank account—and be able to send their children to college.
He recalls that his father often intervened when his mother, whom they affectionately called “Mo-dea,” meaning “mother dear,” brought out the switch. He also remembers paydays.
“Payday for my father meant that the entire Brewster family had a payday. I would stand at the window waiting for my dad’s shadow to appear, and when it did, I would race out the door to greet him. My dad swooped me up and would say, ‘Son, reach down in my pocket and get you some money.’ I would put my hand in my dad’s pocket and pull out five or ten cents. I still remember my dad’s laughter as he would say, ‘Boy, that ain’t no money, reach down there and get yourself some money’.”
His father died when John was 14, and some difficult years followed. In his own words, he recalls, “I was angry at the world and had resolved in my own mind to avenge my father’s death but … it was only God that allowed me to have Mo-dea who wanted more for her children, and a grandmother, Pauline Franklin, that stood by ready to help raise my siblings and me with an iron clad hand.”
His mother moved to Chicago, where she could work as a registered nurse, and support the children financially while they lived with her mother in Alabama. “My grandmother did not believe in sparing the rod, and I had my share of getting a piece of that rod. As I grew into young adulthood, I thought I could do as I pleased and disrespect the rules of my grandmother’s house. When I broke curfew and tried to slip into the house, Pauline Franklin met me at the door with a belt or switch in hand.”
Once he slipped out and went to a local club, but the drinkers in Village Springs recognized him, asking, “Aren’t you Pauline Franklin’s boy?” And, he remembers, “I did not stop to answer because before they could get the word out of their mouths, I was out the door, running home to tell my grandma how I managed to end up in that club by mistake. It was either make up a story or get skinned. I chose the former and most of the time, I still ended up getting skinned.”
Despite his rule-breaking, John was smart and studious. He made the honor roll numerous times, and graduated from high school at 16, after which he moved to Chicago to live with his mother. He enrolled in the American Conservatory of Music and worked as a shoe shine boy to help support his family.
“I earned a lot of money shining shoes,” he says, “enough to pay Mo-Dea room and board and send money back home to my grandma.”
Then life took some strange turns for the young man. He was drafted into the U.S. Army, enlisted in the Air Force, and spent four years in service during the Vietnam War. He returned to Alabama and married, and though the marriage produced a son, it didn’t last, and he remained single for many years. Rev. Brewster points to that period as a time when “I lived life in the fast lane, but I knew I was living wrong.”
He continues, “My refusal to make decisions consistent with the way I was raised weighed heavily on me. One day, I left my grandmother’s house headed for the club. As I traveled to the club, something got a hold of me, causing me to run my brand-new vehicle into the ditch. I could not then and I cannot today tell you how I managed to get deep into the woods of Alabama and crash my vehicle without a scratch on it, only mud.”
He did get the car out of the ditch, he recalls, “and as I was doing so, I heard the words of my grandmother when I left the house that night saying, ‘Boy, I’m praying for you.’ Once I got my vehicle out of the ditch, I headed straight home, parked my car, went into my room, shut the door and to this day, have never stepped foot in that club again.”
Pastor Brewster was convinced that God was trying to get his attention. “I knew I was doing wrong, but I did not want to do right, because wrong felt so good. But something got a hold of me that night I wrecked my car, and my life has not been the same since.”
He felt convicted to spend more time in church, which was where he met his second wife, Brenda Effinger, the beautiful daughter of a pastor. “She was like a princess, and she remains my princess,” he says after 38 years of marriage.
They married and moved to New Orleans and soon had a family of three boys and one girl. In New Orleans Rev. Brewster received his call to the ministry while serving under Dr. Calvin Woods, senior pastor of the Greater Liberty Baptist Church. He was licensed to preach and ordained as a minister through the Ordination Council First District Association of Louisiana.
Then fate intervened. “I was working for ABF Freight System Teamsters Union in New Orleans. Productivity was down, and I was laid off.” Whith a wife and five children he prayed for guidance, and immediately thereafter got a call from an old friend. Gerald Pope had worked for ABF in New Orleans and had relocated to Asheville, and he offered John a position here. It was the right choice: After preaching several times at Mount Zion Baptist Church on Eagle Street and at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, the officers of TMBC asked him to be their pastor.
He temporarily left his young family in New Orleans, but as soon as he had enough money, he relocated them to Asheville. The Brewster family lived in the parsonage next door to TMBC for the first 27 years. Then, says Rev. Brewster, “God rewarded me and my family with a brand new home, four bedrooms, three baths, a gourmet kitchen, and vaulted ceilings with spectacular mountain views in East Asheville.”
The move to Asheville brought growing pains, physically, mentally, financially and emotionally, but as is often the case, the folks in Asheville were kind and generous. Brenda Brewster worked briefly for the Asheville City School System, but on learning that all four of their children suffered from autism, they decided she would stay home with them while he ensured the family’s financial security. Today, all four children are grown and productive members of society.
Simultaneously, studying online, Rev. Brewster earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Christian Counseling from Sarasota (FL) Academy of Christian Counseling. As a lifelong advocate of education, Rev. Brewster also established a school for primarily African American students.
“Along with folks like Cora Jeffries and Cathy Heck, we opened up the New City Christian School in the TMBC building,” he explains. The school flourished, increasing in enrollment to the point where additional space was needed, both to add Fourth Grade, and then beyond. So the church’s board voted to relocate the school to the campus of Trinity Baptist Church in Asheville, where it continues to flourish. One generous benefactor has offered a full scholarship to Asheville Christian Academy to every child who graduates from New City Christian School.
Rev. John Wesley Brewster numbers many accomplishments in his life: first, being a child of God; his profound love for his wife and children; and “the knowledge, wisdom and strength God has given to me to lead the congregation of TMBC for thirty years.” He takes pride that the congregation has built a new sanctuary and will burn the mortgage this year and that it has continually grown in membership, resources, and auxiliaries.
“I came into this world with nothing, and I will leave this world the same way,” says Rev. Brewster. “When I have finished the course God set before me and he calls me home, I hope somebody can say on my behalf, ‘John W. Brewster lived his life serving others’.”