published Friday, October 25th, 2013

Longtime First Presbyterian pastor Ben Haden dies

When banker Scott Probasco and newspaper editor Lee Anderson took a seat in the sanctuary of Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church in 1967, across the aisle from them were then-U.S. Sen. George Smathers and evangelist Billy Graham.

They were all there to hear Ben Haden, the church's pastor. He was being considered to be senior pastor at Chattanooga's First Presbyterian Church.

"That sort of set the tone," Probasco said.

Haden, 88, who was hired and served the church as senior pastor from 1967 through 1999, died early Thursday.

Upon his hiring, said Probasco, "he actually made a commitment in a confidential way that he intended to burn both ends of the candle as a servant of the Lord. And he truly did that."

"No pastor," he said, "ever spent more time or more service or had more interest or more responsibility."

Haden also founded and was the speaker -- for 45 years -- on the Chattanooga-based "Changed Lives'' ministry through radio, television and later the Internet. From 1966 to 1968, he was speaker on the Bible Study Hour, headquartered in Philadelphia.

"He surprisingly ran that whole program," Probasco said of "Changed Lives." "He did a magnificent job. It grew into a tremendous program. Only the good Lord knows how many people he frankly led to the Lord."

One of Haden's sermons, in 1970 after the massacre at Kent State University, won a Freedoms Foundation Award and later was inserted in the Congressional Record.

In 1971, when President Richard Nixon was inviting noted preachers for Sunday services in the White House, Haden spoke there. Graham's mother, who was being honored, had requested him.

"I heard Ben preach and speak many times over the years," said the Rev. Tim Tinsley, the current senior pastor at First Presbyterian, "and one of his strengths was his ability to connect the gospel of Christ in meaningful ways to the listener. The Holy Spirit worked in and through Ben Haden to help people understand the power of God in their lives so that they transferred their trust from their own 'good works' and trusted in Christ's perfect good works."

Haden also spoke to a Washington for Jesus rally, at a Congressional Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., at the Tennessee Prayer Breakfast in Nashville and twice to local Armed Forces Week Prayer Breakfasts.

"He did not have both feet in Heaven," Probasco said, "but he was aware of all the problems [the public was] confronted with. He was very involved in the world in order that he could be ... a communicator and present the truth that this carpenter from 2,000 years ago was who he said he was."

Haden was called to the ministry later in life, having accepted the Lord in a Sunday school class in Kingsport, Tenn. After a career as an oil company owner, a security operative for the Central Intelligence Agency and a newspaper executive at the Kingsport Times-News, he enrolled at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta.

There, he was president of his class and graduated magna cum laude with honors before being called to Key Biscayne Presbyterian.

Later, after being called to First Presbyterian, Haden brought Glenn Draper to Chattanooga as music director of the church. Draper, who had been choral director at the University of Miami, went on to head the church's music ministry for more than 35 years, taught at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and led the Chattanooga Singers and Singing Mocs. Later, after both men had left the church, Haden offered him space in his "Changed Lives" office.

"He was very supportive of me -- a wonderful man to work with," Draper said. "I owe him so much. I just thank God I had the privilege to work with him all these years. He was a super guy and was the best at what he did."

Probasco said Haden played tennis and was rarely without up to four newspapers, but he worked so hard he didn't have much time for hobbies.

"He had a lot of fun, though," he said. "He lived life fully."

Because of Haden's status as a pastor and speaker whose reach was worldwide, many people didn't know the private man, Probasco said.

"He was a tremendous leader of men," he said, "but he was very warm and loving."

Tinsley said he and Haden had lunch regularly, usually discussing their lives in Christ, their families, Chattanooga and First Presbyterian.

"Ben encouraged me as a brother in Christ and as an older pastor who understands the job all too well," he said. "[He] is one of the pastors God has used over the decades to transform First Presbyterian Church, the city of Chattanooga and thousands of lives around the globe, including mine."

Staff writer Susan Pierce contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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