Family and friends of Brian “B.J.” Jennings turned to their faith to find comfort and the strength to forgive during a two-hour-plus memorial service for the Burleson youth minister on Wednesday afternoon.
More than 1,000 people packed into Venue 510 in Burleson to honor the 41-year-old teen pastor for Alsbury Baptist Church, who was one of four people killed just before midnight Saturday in a four-vehicle accident on Burleson Retta Road. Jennings had stopped to help a stranded motorist when a pickup truck full of teenagers slammed into the stopped vehicles.
Also killed in the accident were Breanna Mitchell, 24, who stopped on the side of the road after having a blowout on her SUV, and Hollie Boyles, 52, and her daughter, Shelby Boyles, 21, who lived nearby and, like Jennings, had come to Mitchell’s assistance.
The Rev. Scott Sharman, senior pastor at Alsbury Baptist, opened the memorial service for Jennings with a reminder to pray for the loved ones of the other accident victims, too. He also urged those attending the memorial to look past their grief to find a way to forgive the teenagers in the pickup truck that caused the fatal accident.
It was an admonishment repeated often throughout the service, perhaps most poignantly by Jennings’ teenage daughter, Abby.
“My dad always told me never to be bitter,” Abby Jennings said. “He always told me that I have a beautiful and caring heart, and that he didn’t want to see it go bad. And I won’t let it. I am going to live to make my daddy proud.”
Russell Rasor said that had Jennings survived, “his heart and soul would be asking forgiveness for all those involved.”
Rasor, who said he had known Jennings for more than 20 years, said that Jennings had been wild and reckless himself as a teenager, and that as an adult, had he survived, “he would be reaching out to those kids in that truck, because he was those kids in that truck. There are many here today who, when Brian was in his teens, spent countless hours praying for him. Today, pray for those kids with the same fervor [with which] you prayed for Brian.”
Rasor said that Jennings never did “seek revenge or justice. He sought God’s grace. [He believed] in offering grace and mercy to those who feel don’t deserve it. Because the truth is, none of us deserve it.”
A host of Jennings’ longtime friends spoke at the service, each of them talking about Jennings’ love of his family, his commitment to the youth of his church and his passionate dedication to Christ. Each one also described the profound impact Jennings had on them as men and as Christians. They described a man who loved to sing and to dance and have a good time, but who was always focused first on testifying to others about God.
They also said that Brian Jennings died the way he lived — in service to God and others.
“He died tragically, doing what he did best —helping others,” said the Rev. Rick Eubanks, youth and music minister at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Burleson. Eubanks was youth minister at Crestmont Baptist when Jennings attended as a young man.
Eubanks, who delivered the eulogy to end the service, said that Jennings had “finished the course [and] kept the faith. ... And his passing reminds us to make the most of every moment.”
He said that the last time he saw Jennings, they had been discussing the question, “What does God owe us?”
Eubanks said that Jennings’ answer to that question was a motto everyone should try to live by: “God owes us nothing. Every moment is a gift.”
Hollie and Shelby Boyles
Funeral services for Hollie Leigh Woods Boyles and Shelby Madeline Boyles are Saturday in Springfield, Ga., under the direction of Strickland and Sons Funeral Home of Savannah, Ga.
Visitation is from 6-8 p.m. today at the funeral home. Funeral services for the mother and daughter are at 11 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church of Springfield, followed by burial at Union Cemetery.
Hollie Boyles was a homemaker and a member of Cana Baptist Church in Burleson. A native of Savannah, she graduated in 1979 from Savannah Christian Prep School. She was also a cancer survivor. She is survived by her husband, Eric D. Boyles of Burleson; her daughter, Marguerite Elizabeth Boyles of Lincoln, Neb.; her mother, Marguerite Collins Woods of Midway, Ga.; her brother, Wesley Warren Woods Sr. of Savannah; and several nieces and nephews.
Shelby Boyles was a Savannah native and a senior at the University of Louisiana at Monroe School of Nursing and a registered certified nurse’s aide. She was a member of First Baptist Church of Bastrop, La., and was active in missions work there. In addition to her father, sister, grandmother, aunt and uncle listed as her mother’s survivors, Shelby Boyles was also survived by her grandmother, Mary D. Boyles of Springfield, Ga.; uncle, Franklin A. Boyles and his wife, Cynthia, of Marysville, Tenn.; aunts, Sharon Hutson and her husband, Matt, of Rincon, Ga., and Janice Watson Woods of Savannah; and several cousins.
Obituary information and a guest book can be found at savannahnow.com/obituaries.