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thomas-coker-memorial-day-2012
Thomas with one of his granddaughters this past Memorial Day in Houston

Thad Roberts, Jr. had for thirty-two years been the iconic Minister of Music of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, Texas - the man who led our music program during what must be deemed hopefully merely the first of many golden ages for our congregation. By the end of 1986, however, he was very-much cancer-ridden, and in January 1987 he passed away - God taking him up into eternal glory in what would have been Mr. Roberts’ temporal retirement year.

Newly-bereft of one of the titans of our church’s history, we went looking for not someone who could fill Mr. Roberts’ shoes, because no-one could possibly do such a thing: Thad was too bigger-than-life for all-that, …but somone who would be able to make shoes of his own and set them alongside Mr. Robert’s in equal stature. Thomas ‘Tommy’ Coker did such a thing and more: along with the pastors and others on our ministerial staff as well as innumerable lay-people, he helped lead South Main through the aftermath of the darkest time in our church’s history and what was to us nothing short of an apocalypse: the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (though my conservative friends would deem it the ‘taking back’ of the Convention, but that’s for another time).

Tommy (who would later go by ‘Thomas’) and his family came to us in September 1987, and Tommy’s ministry with us ended at the conclusion of this morning’s morning worship service (Sunday 3 June 2012).  A short video of the last moments of his ministry with us may be had here.

Thomas Coker is to me nothing short of being a third father (after Dad and Step-dad Russ (may the latter rest in peace, the former still being very-much with us) who along with Brenda (his wife), children, children-in-law, grandkids, and his and Brenda’s parents (his parents having gone to glory) I count as nothing less than extended family. I am still trying to wrap my mind around him not being in the office at South Main scurrying about getting music, choir newsletter, score-reading, and phone calls done not to mention the rehearsals on top of rehearsals.

Of course, he was and is a consummate musician who demanded nothing but excellence (in other words, the best of one’s musical ability and the best of one’s heart, mind, and spirit) out of everyone in his ministry. But he was far-more than that: he was a consummate minister, and it is saying something that above his music, we will remember his time at South Main for the person he was and continues to be: an example of Christian living, a man’s man, a friend’s friend, a minister’s minister, a listener, a fount of common sense, a steadfast ‘leader of men’, an individual having a work ethic of mythical proportions (he never took a sabbatical), and one who made and continues to make the conscious choice every day of his life to never stray from what matters, even though he (and all of us) at times may stumble.

As my youngest grandfather always said, ‘Time marches on.’.  And for Thomas, the steady march of time and the prompting of God’s spirit have compelled him to take this next step on his life-journey.  We will miss him.   I will miss him.  But after all the blood, sweat, weekends, and tears he has given to South Main for lo, these many years, and to all his churches before coming to South Main, he is well-deserving of a long rest in the glow of the ‘golden years’, playing with the grandkids, composing more music, writing (I hope), and whatever else comes to mind.

As for South Main, our mission and work continue. The Middle School Choral Director of St. John’s School in Houston, a South Mainer for almost as long as Thomas, and one of the pillars of our music ministry in his generation, Stephen Bedford has been named Interim Minister of Music at South Main, his first act of business already being done: posting signs around the music suite telling one and all that yes, indeed, choir rehearsals during the summer months will be happening as they always have. The post-Coker era in the Ministry of Music at South Main has begun, and Thomas is just fine with that!

Godspeed, Tommy, and blessings to you always from me and everyone at South Main. Thank you for coming to us in 1987, and thanks for staying the course and helping us into what I pray will be a bright new golden age.

And thank you most of all for living into what has been the motto of the Ministry of Music at South Main and our church at-large: To God Alone Be Glory!

Jeff Ragsdale


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