Prissy was perhaps fated to a life of ministry. Both her grandmother and mother served as the president of the WMU of Georgia. If you go far enough back in Prissy’s family tree, you will find the hymn writer, Isaac Watts, who wrote “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Joy to the World.” Seems that a ministry of missions and music was in Prissy’s DNA from the very beginning.
The energy and enthusiasm that Prissy brings to ministry has always been part of who she is. A few years ago Prissy’s mother was watching a documentary about ADHD and Ritalin. She called Prissy over to her, took Prissy’s face in her hands, and said, “Prissy Jones, if they had this when you were a child, you would have been on it!”
While she was a twenty-year-old college student at Stetson University working on her bachelor of music in voice and choral conducting, Prissy took her first ministry position. That was fifty years ago this month. She served as the associate minister of music at First Baptist Church, DeLand, Florida for two years and then became the minister of music at First Baptist Church, Indialantic, Florida.
After graduating from college, Prissy moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where she earned a Master of Divinity with a focus on education. While in seminary, she worked in social ministry, first as the Baptist Center assistant director at Broadway Baptist Church and then as the director of weekday activities at Gambrell Street Baptist Church. While in Fort Worth, Prissy also gave birth to her son Mark, a “seminary baby.”
Upon graduation, Prissy was appointed as a Southern Baptist missionary to Vietnam, serving there from 1970 to 1975. She has more stories than you can believe from those years, including having a root canal with no pain medication and conducting the first, and as far as we know only, performance of Handel’s Messiah in that country. Her time in Vietnam ended with her family refugeeing out of the country as South Vietnam fell.
Prissy was next appointed as a missionary to Costa Rica and served there for a year before returning to the United States to work as a home missionary for the North American Mission Board. She was the assistant director of Refugee Resettlement, working with the boat people who were fleeing Vietnam. Prissy spoke the language and had experience in social ministry so she was a natural fit for the position. This ministry led to her family adopting three Vietnamese refugee children.
Although Prissy left the mission field, missions has never been far from her heart. Through the years, she has led mission teams to England, Spain, Jordan, Thailand, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Peru, Honduras, and Ecuador. Many of those trips involved coordinating mission teams that led a VBS-type camp for the children of missionaries. Those camps took place during the annual missionary meetings.
Prissy spent the 1980s as the minister of children and families at Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta. From there she went to Franklin, North Carolina, where she served as the minister of music, senior adults, and children at First Baptist Church.
In 1997, Prissy was called as minister of faith development by First Baptist Church, Rome, Georgia. She served there for fourteen years, and in 2000, Prissy was finally ordained.
Prissy “retired” in 2011, but it did not take long for her to find her way to North Broad Baptist Church, where we put her to work, first as interim children’s minister, and then two years ago, we called her as our minister of music and children.
In addition to church ministry, Prissy has written children’s missions curriculum for the WMU and for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, served as a member of the coordinating council of CBF of Georgia, and mentored many ministers, including her work as a ministry coach for recent graduates of McAfee School of Theology. She is also co-author of Stories That Won’t Go Away: Women in Vietnam 1959-1975. In 2002, Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia recognized Prissy as the Distinguished Church Woman of the Year. That same year she also received the Jack Naish Christian Educators Leadership Award from The Center for Christian Education.
This thumbnail sketch of churches and titles just scratches the surface. Behind the names of all of those churches are countless lives that have been touched by Prissy’s ministry. Individuals, children, and families who she has ministered to, counseled with, led in worship, and touched in countless ways. We give thanks to God for Prissy Tunnell and the way she has allowed God to work through her for the good of the kingdom.
Micah Pritchett is pastor of North Broad Baptist Church, Rome, Georgia.