MAY — One important point to make about May First Baptist Church: its secretary Earla Pallette, is “the rock of our church.”

Pastor John Tunnell made sure a visitor knew that as the  visitor passed through Pallette’s office and entered the pastor’s office.

Tunnell, 67, has been the church’s pastor for just over 4 1/2 years, counting a year as interim pastor. A friendly, welcoming man, Tunnell talked about a variety of topics including the debt-free, 2,400-square foot expansion of the church’s fellowship hall that is under way. The expansion will include additional Sunday school space.

The church will have a hymn and gospel music concert from 6-7 p.m. Sunday, which will serve as a fundraiser for the project. Donations will be accepted.

The concert will feature music by Early brothers Abraham Cooper, 20, and Victoriano Cooper, 14. The brothers and their parents, Charles and Adelie, are members of the church, where Abraham Cooper is the church’s pianist.

When asked about his own background, Tunnell casually mentioned he was in the Air Force more than three decades ago, and flew as a weapons systems operator in the powerful F-4 Phantom jet fighter-bomber.

Pressed for details, Tunnell explained that as a weapons system officer, he flew in the rear cockpit of the two-seat, twin-engine supersonic combat jet. 

Tunnell’s experiences in the Phantom included flying at low level through the Austrian alps, and approaching the white cliffs of Dover while flying nearly at sea level.

Tunnell used a series of single words to describe the Phantom’s fierce maneuvers.

Violent. Exciting. Intense. Challenging.

“Lots of things going on at the same time,” Tunnell said.

But being in ministry and seeing lives changed through the gospel is a greater thrill, he said.

“I wouldn’t go back,” Tunnell said.

Tunnell and his wife, Sherry, have four sons. Two are pastors, one is a probation officer and one is in the Army.

Tunnell, who grew up in Dallas, knew he was called to the ministry as a high school student. Tunnell attended Howard Payne University with a Bible minor. After Tunnell graduated from HPU, he knew there was an area of his life that he had not surrendered to God, and God would not permit him to attend seminary.

So Tunnell joined the Air Force, earning an officer’s commission after completing Officer Training School. He was assigned as a navigator on C-130 transport planes, then was re-assigned to the F-4 as a weapons system officer.

Tunnell left the Air Force after six years as a captain, brought his family to Brownwood and ran a business.

During a revival service at Coggin Avenue Baptist Church, Tunnell surrendered the part of his life he was holding back from God.

“God said ‘it’s time,’” Tunnell recounted.

He attended seminary, then went on to pastor six churches including First Baptist in May. After a tough pastorate at an Abilene church, “I was ready to throw in the towel,” Tunnell said.

But he didn’t quit the ministry.

“This is my sixth church, and in a way t’s been my sweetest church,” Tunnell said of May First Baptist.

He described the community as “down to earth, unpretentious and very supportive of its school.”

The church is “a great place to be,” Tunnell said.