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'I'm just going to miss our community'
Dean Haun prepares to say good-bye to First Baptist Church of Jonesboro

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Framed pictures, depicting University of Tennessee football, sat on the floor, stacked against a wall, in Dean Haun's conference room on Wednesday.

The pictures were just waiting to be packed.

Haun, who took over as the pastor at First Baptist Church of Jonesboro eight and a half years ago, has been packing up all of the belongings in his office at the church. The Knoxville, Tenn., native recently accepted the pastor's position at First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn., and will give his first sermon at that church on Dec. 2.

As he surveys the church he's led for nearly a decade, though, his cell phone rings. The ring tone is "Rocky Top," the fight song of the University of Tennessee.

He swears he's not going to a church in Tennessee because of his loyalties to the Volunteers, though.

"We [Haun and his wife, Pam] were not looking to leave this community," Haun said. "God began to open a series of miraculous doors, where it became obvious that this [Morristown] was where I had to go."

Haun, who is a member of the Association of Christian Ministers of Clayton County, will give his last sermon to the congregation of First Baptist Church of Jonesboro on Sunday, Nov. 18. He will preach at both the 8 a.m., and the 10:45 a.m., services that morning. A reception will then be held in honor of Haun and his wife from 5 p.m., to 7 p.m., that night, in the church's Recreation Outreach Center.

The congregation of First Baptist Church of Jonesboro had a six-month transition period to get used to Dean Haun when he was getting ready to replace Dr. Charles Carter, who was about to retire in 1999, after leading the church for 27 years.

There will be no transition period this time, though.

"The difference is that Dr. Carter was retiring, and I'm going to lead another church," Haun said. "This church's [First Baptist Church of Jonesboro] congregation will form a pastor search team, who will seek out a new pastor. How long it usually takes a church to find a new pastor depends on the church. There are some churches who can do it in six months, while others may take up to two years."

When Haun was asked what he would miss the most about his church in Jonesboro, he said the community would be the biggest thing. Three of Haun's children, and two of his grandchildren, live in Jonesboro. He and his wife also have several friends here.

He has presided over the funerals of three American soldiers, who died in the War Against Terrorism, in the last year and a half. He also participated in the funeral for Clayton County Police Officer Shawn Newlin, a member of Haun's congregation, earlier this year.

"Our whole church is spiritually touched by sacrifices like that," Haun said. "Our church really rallies behind families. It's been great to serve as this church's pastor. I'm just going to miss our community."

The biggest part of the community Haun will miss, though, is the diversity of ethnic cultures, both in the county, and in his own congregation. Haun said the makeup of First Baptist Church of Jonesboro was 75 percent white, and the remaining 25 percent was a mixture of African Americans and "other ethnicity's" when he arrived in 1999.

Haun issued a challenge to his congregation in 2001 to reach out to the community in Jonesboro, and be open to the congregation mirroring the growing ethnic diversity, which was taking place in Clayton County. Haun said he told the congregation at the time, "Don't run, just bloom where God planted you."

There are currently 23 different ethnic groups represented in the church's congregation, and they speak nine different languages, he said. He also said the church now has congregations spread out across five campuses in the area. The ethnic make-up of these congregations ranges from whites, African Americans and Hispanics, to Vietnamese and Laotians.

"We literally have people, from all over the world, who attend this church," Haun said.

While Haun enjoys the ethnic diversity of First Baptist Church of Jonesboro's congregation, he also takes pride in the Recreation Outreach Center, also known as the R.O.C., which opened its doors in 2002. The R.O.C. is a recreation and fitness facility which is open to the public for free.

It originated from fire and brimstone, though.

The road toward the R.O.C.'s creation began when Haun got a knock at his door at 2 a.m., on the morning after the Super Bowl in 2000. The unexpected guest was a Clayton County police officer.

"Are you Pastor Haun?" the officer asked.

"Yes, I am," replied the pastor, who had only been in charge of the church for seven months.

"Your church is on fire," said the officer.

A fire, later determined to be caused by an arsonist, was racing through the old education building at the far end of the church facility from where the congregation met for worship services, Haun said. The fire gutted the old education building, but Haun said the Clayton County and Jonesboro fire departments did "an incredible job" to keep the fire from spreading through the rest of the facility.

Haun and his wife stayed at the church until 6 a.m., watching fire fighters put out the flames, and making sure the fire did not begin anew.

"If they hadn't been able to stop the fire, it would have been a catastrophe for us," Haun said.

The church's leaders decided building a new education and recreation facility across the street, instead of where the old education building had been, would be more convenient for churchgoers. Two years later, the R.O.C. opened its doors to the public for the first time. More than 21,000 people have gotten free memberships at the R.O.C. since then.

Janet McGrotha, an administrative assistant at First Baptist Church of Jonesboro, a member of its congregation since 1997, said everyone at the church is "in mourning" over Haun's decision to go to Tennessee.

"The fact that this is where God is calling him is the only thing that gives me solace," McGrotha said. "He's just a good man, and we're going to miss him. I'm very sad about him leaving, but I know he's going for the right reasons."