A Celebration of Dr. Flamming’s life will be held Saturday, April 1, at 2:00 PM in the Sanctuary of Richmond’s First Baptist Church, with a reception to follow in Flamming Hall. The service will be streamed and may be accessed on the church website – fbcrichmond.org. Visitation will take place on Friday, March 31, from 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM in the church sanctuary.
Pastor Emeritus, Dr. Peter James (Jim) Flamming, died at Westminster Canterbury Richmond, in Richmond, VA, on March 27, 2023. He served Richmond’s First Baptist Church for 23 years, from 1983-2006.
Dr. Flamming’s legacy will undoubtedly shine on through the people of the church – countless who still speak of the beloved pastor dedicating their baby, baptizing, marrying them, or shepherding them through difficulty of loss. The same might be said for just as many outside the church, since one could rarely go anywhere around Richmond without being approached by “members” of the television congregation. Like the Ministry of Communication, many ministry areas were birthed or significantly expanded during his tenure, including the Deaf Ministry, Community Missions, Counseling and Family Life, and Divorce Recovery.
Church historian Fred Anderson characterized Dr. Flamming as a bridge builder. Anderson reflected that Dr. Flamming used his bridge building skills in delicate construction, in the minds and hearts of people, as well as in particularly trying times for the church. When Southern Baptist denominational peace didn’t seem possible in the nineties, Dr. Flamming served on the Peace Committee. He wrote heartfelt letters to those “on the other denominational side,” letting them know he was praying for them. After the Peace Committee, he led the congregation in a way that sustained stewardship and fellowship with one another while respecting each other’s differing opinions.
Spiritual nudges were key in bridge building and peacemaking. Previous leadings in life and ministry shaped a heart longing for racial reconciliation. The most significant was opening up his church in Texas so people could come together after Dr. Martin Luther King was killed. Without time to seek approval of the congregation, and in a time of segregation and unrest, it was a bold step at that time. So, it was only natural for Dr. Flamming to feel led to connect with Pastor Dennis Thomas, bringing together deacons and congregations of Richmond’s First Baptist Church and First African Baptist Church, to create mutual opportunities and begin to build relationships.
A coveted “bridging” opportunity came in 2003, when Dr. Flamming was invited to preach the sermon for the State of Virginia at the National Cathedral, giving it the second largest attendance for a state Sunday. The invitation to preach was a rare honor at the time for a non-Episcopalian minister. Locally, Dr. Flamming was one of the longest running guest preachers at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s Lenten Luncheon Series, which has been drawing diverse worshippers for over 75 years.
Dr. Flamming made time for small groups and individual relationships, including koinonia fellowship with the Deacons, leading a men’s small group, and prayer retreats for his own and congregations around the city. Prayer was an essential, personal, and corporate practice in Dr. Flamming’s life. Catalyst Prayer began during his active ministry, and remains a core ministry and small group today.
At the individual level, Dr. Flamming encouraged many fellow pastors over the years, which in more recent years included Bob Lee, Pastor of Huguenot Road Baptist Church. Dr. Flamming advocated for and encouraged women in preaching, seeing their giftedness while serving stints as an adjunct professor of preaching at Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond. Lynn Turner, Senior Associate Pastor, who was hired as a Youth Pastor by Dr. Flamming, sought out his sermon making knowledge, skill and shepherding insight whenever the two could carve out time.
Many experienced Dr. Flamming’s wise counsel – lay and ministerial alike. An outstanding example of this was the mentorship offered to the now Rev. Dr. Francis Tabla, from Liberia, who studied at Union Theological Seminary/Presbyterian School of Christian Education. The connection grew to include the church’s financial support, and continued with visits when Tabla moved to Minneapolis, MN. Tabla envisioned planting a church there where many Liberians had settled. Ebenezer Community Church celebrated twenty years of ministry in 2020, and one of the great joys that Dr. Flamming experienced at his retirement celebration in 2006 was the First Baptist Endowment announcing that they had paid off the remaining balance of the Ebenezer mortgage on their new building in honor of Dr. Flamming.
Dr. Flamming also quietly impacted innumerable lay people in their spiritual formation, for which he would shun recognition. One family that wanted to make an outward expression of Dr. Flamming’s influence was former First Baptist members Daniel and Susan Ludeman, who established the Flamming Program in Faith and Practice at the University of Richmond with an initial $1 million dollar gift.
Dr. Flamming’s ministry footprints extend to Texas, where he served as pastor at First Baptist Church of Abilene from 1966 to 1983. There were important family years as the Flammings’ sons grew up during those seventeen years. They were also key mission years for the church, as well as for Dr. Flamming and his wife Shirley. While they sustained FBC Abilene’s stateside missions, friendships with Baker James Cauthen and Keith Parks sparked invitations to lead Bible Studies and work with pastors on the mission field. The Flammings led a trip to Corrente, Brazil, which launched subsequent trips and the significant presence of furloughed missionaries in Abilene. Both Flammings relished those times of service in Texas, which included traveling to the Foreign Mission Board in Richmond (now the International Mission Board), which may have helped soften leaving when the call to serve in Richmond came.
The Flammings’ heart for mission had many ripple effects, including many children of missionaries coming to Abilene to attend Harden-Simmons University. While in Abilene and Richmond, the Flammings served in Kenya, Tanzania, Brazil, Spain, Costa Rica, China, Hong Kong, Austria, and England.
The Flammings called Dallas home as they were starting out in ministry. Dr. Flamming served as an Associate Pastor at Park Cities Baptist Church, then Pastor of Royal Lane Baptist Church before accepting the call to Abilene. He also served as Director of the Baptist Student Union and as a Bible teacher at Texas Women’s University in Denton. At 21, Dr. Flamming began his ministry at Bethel Baptist Church in Eastland, TX. While serving at Bethel, Dr. Flamming earned the Bachelor of Divinity Degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth in 1959, and later earned his Doctor of Theology degree in 1963, specializing in New Testament. He and Shirley Northcutt were married in 1955, shortly after graduating from Hardin-Simmons.
Dr. Flamming’s books include Never Stop Starting: A Dozen Lessons for Later Life, Healing the Heartbreak of Grief, Poking Holes in the Darkness and Other Sermons You Can’t Sleep Through, and God and Creation. He published articles for Pulpit Digest, and many more for Bible study and spiritual formation for all ages. He assisted Peter Drucker in The Drucker Institute, thought of as the dean of leadership and management in America at the time. Dr. Flamming honed his leadership skills and credited Drucker with helping to shape his ministry approach – once explaining how vital it was to go about it “with one another”.
Dr. Flamming was the 2001 recipient of the Humanitarian Award, presented by the National Conference for Community and Justice, and the 2006 recipient of the Good Shepherd Emblem presented by the Heart of Virginia Council of Boy Scouts of America. The scout award was particularly meaningful for Dr. Flamming, since he remembered receiving the God and Country merit badge when he was a Boy Scout. Recognized as “the most inspirational clergyman in Richmond,” Dr. Flamming was also chosen as one of the city’s hundred most influential leaders of the 20th century. He enjoyed participating in “The Club,” invited to that literary interest group of men and women formed in 1885 at the University of Richmond by the late Dr. George Modlin, former president at the school.
Dr. Flamming was preceded in death by his wife Shirley in 2017, and beloved son, Peter Dave in 1991. He is survived by his sister, Verva Lacy of Amarillo, TX, two sons, Jesse Dee Flamming (Terri) of Fort Worth, TX, and Dr. James Douglas Flamming (Judith) of Atlanta, GA, sister in law Jessie Ann Cook who faithfully served as Dr. Flamming’s in home caregiver and coordinator. Many will remember Anna, Sarah and Cathey Flamming who, along with their mother Betsy (Dave’s wife), lived with the Flammings for several years after Dave’s death. Surviving grandchildren in addition to the three already mentioned are Peter, Lea, Elizabeth, and Jessie. Great grandchildren are Rainor, Ruthie, Hawkins, Samson, Charlotte, Shirley, John Ryder, and Benjamin.