Commitment first, plans later. For The Reverend Lant B. Davis of Mountain Brook Presbyterian Church, this was the lesson learned during a time of major transition in his life. Having taken a leave of absence from his position as partner in a high-profile Birmingham law firm in order to gain clarity about his career choice, Davis found himself working closely with a group of passionate volunteers who were attempting to save the financially troubled Alabama Symphony Orchestra. A Yale Law School graduate whose areas of legal expertise include bankruptcy law, he drew up a plan to restructure the organization. But the reception from corporate sponsors was less than enthusiastic, and a frustrated Davis returned to his legal career.
The determination of the patrons to save the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, however, refused to die. The group continued to pursue support, and Davis recalls a meeting in the early 1990s with arts benefactor Alys Stephens and her husband, Elton B. Stephens, philanthropist and founder of EBSCO Industries. Davis says he was presenting his meticulously crafted business plan when Mr. Stephens interrupted to inform him that he had done everything wrong. Surprised, Davis asked the business titan what he meant. “You should have gotten the money first,” Stephens told him. “Commitment first, then the plan.”
These words echo the trajectory of the path Lant B. Davis wound up taking to reach his current position as senior pastor at Mountain Brook Presbyterian Church. Upon graduation from law school, Davis landed a prestigious offer in his hometown of Birmingham and embarked on a successful career as an attorney who specialized in health law and international arbitration. But something was missing. He spent years of grappling with his decision to pursue law. His soul searching led him to ask where he might best use his skills, and his thoughts continued to return to pastoral ministry. After practicing more than 20 years, Davis left the high-powered world of corporate law to answer that call to ministry.
To the Land I Will Show You
It wasn’t a decision he took lightly. Davis knew it might be a tough sell to his wife, Amanda. He laughs as he recalls thinking, “Lord, if this is what you want, the first person you’re going to have to talk to is Amanda because she did not marry a preacher.”
In the end, Amanda gave her blessing. And so, like Abraham and his family in ancient Mesopotamia, the couple, with their high school-aged son in tow, moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where Davis completed his Master of Divinity degree at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He describes the feeling of being back in school after the high pressure world of corporate and international law as magical. “I was a kid in a candy shop,” he says.
Davis loved his time in seminary so much that he spent four years in administration at the school after receiving his degree. He still serves as chairman of the Board of Trustees. But once again, the call to pastoral ministry was too strong to ignore, and he began seeking out a church to serve. He spent 11 years as pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Terre Haute, Indiana, before returning to his hometown of Birmingham to be closer to his aging father. His first Sunday at Mountain Brook Presbyterian was Pentecost Sunday of last year.
The Church in the Woods
Mountain Brook Presbyterian, nestled on a peaceful wooded lot on Brookwood Road in the heart of Mountain Brook, is a true “neighborhood church.” The building that houses the impressive sanctuary, with its beautiful stained glass windows brought from the downtown 6th Avenue Presbyterian church when it closed, appears older than its 50 years because of the attention to detail and the desire to honor both the old and the new. While the sanctuary is certainly awe-inspiring, the spirit in the services is warm and responsive. Davis admits that he will, on occasion, slip from his pastor’s role to that of a choir member and join the choir in song.
Both Davis and his wife, who holds a doctorate in mathematics education and is currently writing a book on early childhood mathematics, see their ministry as a partnership. They conduct Bible study classes during the week at Mountain Brook Presbyterian, reflecting their shared passion for teaching. Amanda, whose Scripture study group for busy women reaches dozens of women through email, embraces her role as pastor’s wife, even though it wasn’t originally in the plan when the couple married.
As Davis enters his second year, his attention is shifting from strengthening the infrastructure of the church to focusing on outreach by the congregation. “How can we serve this neighborhood?” he asks. He mentions how he can sit at his desk in his office and watch a parade of runners, walkers and bikers pass by on Brookwood Road. With a much sought-after daily preschool program and a vibrant Boy Scout program at the church, the tools are in place to extend a hospitable hand to the community. But Davis isn’t satisfied with the status quo. He desires to make Mountain Brook Presbyterian a welcoming destination for everyone throughout the community and not just a beautiful landmark along a running route. “Stay tuned,” he says with a grin.
Davis sees many parallels between his former career and his current calling. Interpreting ancient texts and composing written and oral communication form the backbone of both law and ministry, and while Davis excels at both, his heart is clearly drawn to the personal relationships that law and ministry foster. Two stuffed animals share a seat in a wingback chair in his office. When asked about them, he says they help children relax and open up when they come to his office to talk. “They serve the same purpose with most of the adults I counsel as well,” he says.
Charting a Course by the Stars
When asked what he enjoys when he is not thinking about church business, Davis laughs. “When is that?” he asks. He admits to being a hands-on pastor and administrator, leaving little time to pursue hobbies. Davis enjoys reading and possesses a special affinity for “archaic things.” Passionate about preserving skills that are dying out, he has conducted archery classes and built a sailboat that he took out on the waters of Lake Martin and the Gulf of Mexico. Given his affinity for formulating a course of action, it is no surprise that he taught himself celestial navigation using a sextant and the stars to determine location. He admits his first computation was a bit off—but only by a couple of hundred miles.
Still, not bad for a man who loves to plot and plan. A man who visualizes an objective and figures out the best way to get there. A man who demonstrates by example that without commitment first, the best plans stand little chance of success.