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Community remembers pastor

Posted: April 14, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 14, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Retired Grace Baptist Church pastor Tom Givens died in March following a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

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Friends and family say Tom Givens was a simple man. He loved the outdoors, hunting, fishing and baseball, and he loved people; but he really loved sharing the word of God.

For nearly his entire life, he shared a passion for preaching the Bible with people of the community.

“Tom was preaching before he was even a pastor,” said Sharon Givens, Tom Givens’ wife. “He was preaching at rescue missions when he was 16. He just always was a pastor.”

Givens spent more than 40 years as a pastor preaching and teaching the word of God, and, 22 of those years, he spent as the senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Saugus.

He came to Grace in 1984 and was chosen out of 70 candidates for the position, retiring in 2006.

Givens died March 10 at the age of 64 after a yearlong struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a progressive, fatal, neurodegenerative disease.


Devastating news

After retiring, Givens and his wife moved to Arizona, and then Colorado, to help small churches that were struggling when between pastors. During their time in Colorado, they lived in the mountains and continued to hunt and fish as they had always done.

Tom and Sharon Givens began noticing minor changes in his walking and motor skills in late 2010. Finally, on Nov. 18 of that year, Tom’s 63rd birthday, they went to UCLA Medical Center to see a specialist and were given the diagnosis.

“This disease is so destructive to the human body,” Sharon Givens said. “It is a complete destroyer of human emotions and body, and Tom knew what to expect.”

Over the next year, Tom Givens’ condition quickly regressed from difficulty walking to difficulty writing, speaking and then breathing.

The Givens moved back to Santa Clarita and were offered a home from a member of the Grace Baptist congregation. The church also offered financial support and volunteers to help with Tom Givens’ daily needs and offer comfort and support to Sharon Givens during his last days.

“God has taken the love of my life,” Sharon Givens said. “I am grateful to God, not mad or bitter. He is sovereign and has a purpose I may never understand; but I am thankful he gave me the strength for this journey.”


‘Grace to you’

“He had a way of using practical, down-to-Earth stories to explain profound biblical principles,” said Geoff Beckwith, executive pastor of Grace Baptist.

“He loved to preach and would tie the Bible to real-life situations. He had a willingness to go be there for people whenever there was a crisis.”

He became well-known for coining the phrase, “Grace to you,” one parishoner said At the end of each sermon, Givens would provide a benediction and offer these simple words in parting to the congregation.

Over the years, it became a common greeting at church and around the community. “He was a gifted communicator and had a way with words that allow us to visually see things in a remarkable way,” member and longtime friend Fred Fels said.


Empty the tank

Tom Givens and his wife developed a close friendship with many of the people of the congregation. Over the years, the community came to know Givens as a passionate pastor with a great love for kids and sports.

If Givens wasn’t at church speaking to the congregation, he was serving the community in some way. You could find him at the William S. Hart baseball fields, where he umpired for many years, or at any number of sporting events supporting his own kids and the kids of the community.

“He had a love for baseball and a love for families,” Beckwith said. “He was more comfortable out in the dirt on the field or in his hunting fatigues than in a suit.”

While cheering on his children during sports, he developed another catch phrase that he passed on to them: “Empty the tank.” He said this was to urge them to give everything they had and work their hardest, leaving nothing in “the tank.”


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