Former Brotherhood Commission president James D. “Jim” Williams motions to the audience during his remarks to staff, trustees and friends July 29. Photo by Bill Bangham
Former Brotherhood staff, trustees gather for 20-year reunion
By Tim Yarbrough and Bill Bangham
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – More than 60 former staff members, trustees and volunteers of the Brotherhood Commission gathered July 29 for a reunion. 2017 marks 20 years since the demise of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) agency.
Some of the attendees came from as far as Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia for the event, which was a celebration of the ministry of the organization, which made Memphis its home for 59 of its 94-years of existence. In 1997, it was folded into other entities of the SBC, and disbanded. Most of its functions and ministries went to the newly formed North American Mission Board (NAMB).
As an agency of the SBC, the Brotherhood Commission developed programs of work involving men and boys in missions. Brotherhood work began as a national organization of Southern Baptists in 1907 in Richmond, Va., as the Layman’s Missionary Movement. The name was changed in 1926 to the Baptist Brotherhood of the South. In 1938, its headquarters were moved to Memphis, and in 1950 it assumed its final name, the Brotherhood Commission.
The Brotherhood Commission is the former home of mission education programs Royal Ambassadors (RAs), Pioneers, Baptist Men, disaster relief (DR), the National Fellowship of Baptists in Missions, and in later years, World Changers.
Reunion activities included a tour of the former Brotherhood building located in Midtown Memphis, a reception at Germantown Baptist Church, a reading of Brotherhood staff who have died and greetings from those who could not attend. Jim Burton of Alpharetta, Ga., who has ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), who could not travel, connected with former colleagues via Skype.
In remarks to attendees, former Brotherhood Commission president James D. "Jim" Williams said it was “hard to believe” it has been 20 years since the demise of the agency.
“Surely we all join in giving thanks for the 94-year history of the Brotherhood Commission and most of all for the countless number of people whose lives were touched through the programs and services of the Commission,” he said.
Williams said the uniqueness of the Brotherhood Commission was embodied in its trustees, state programs leaders, volunteer involvement and its staff. At the time of the agency’s demise, he said 70,000 Brotherhood volunteers were involved SBC missions, and that enrollment and participation in Brotherhood programs was at an all-time high of 750,000.
“(Trustees were) in a sense the representative owners,” said Williams. “They helped set policy and the administration was charged with carrying out that policy. During the years of this presidency, we had great trustees, all of whom worked doubly hard to keep SBC policies out of our operations. The top down decision to merge the three SBC agencies (into NAMB) was challenged by our trustees but a vote of the SBC to merge prevailed.”
Former Brotherhood trustees Jack Knox, Don Varnado and Bob Hill were in attendance at the reunion.
Williams said state Brotherhood leaders were faithful in carrying out the Commission’s programs to associations and churches.
“If we had time we could have a role call of state leaders that truly embodied the significant missions education/involvement of men and boys,” said Williams, pointing to former state Brotherhood leaders in attendance at the reunion. They included Paul Harrell of Mississippi, John LaNoue and Jim Furguson, both of Texas Baptist Men, and Brotherhood staff member and Tennessee state leader Tim Bearden.
Williams said a third element that powered the Brotherhood community was volunteer involvement.
“A special salute is due Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) as together the two agencies challenged lay people not only to learn about missions but to do missions,” said Williams. “Furthermore, we salute all those special persons from other SBC agencies that helped empower our mission.”
Williams concluded by thanking staff for making the Brotherhood ministry special.
“(I) wish there was a time to call the names of every staff
member that served since 1908. I was never privileged to know President Henderson or Cook, but I did know and value each of the others, George Schroeder, Glendon McCollough and Jim Smith,” said Williams. “But the Commission was more than the executive staff, the administrative staff and department heads. The real heroes are those in the trenches; editors, consultants, artists, secretaries, warehouse employees, distribution clerks, financial accountants, marketing personnel.”
Williams added, “If I was a cheerleader I would shout a loud cheer for you and all the staff that served our Lord throughout the 94 years of our history.”
Included among the former Brotherhood Commission staff attending the reunion were: Bill Bangham, retired editor-in-chief of theCOMMISSION magazine for the International Mission Board and former editor of World Mission Journal-Baptist Young Men; Douglas Beggs, retired vice president of program services; Bearden; Jack Childs, retired vice president of financial services; Mike Day, former executive assistant to the president; Furguson; LaNoue; David Nester, portrait and studio photographer; Carol Pipes, director of communications at LifeWay Christian Resources and former World Changers staffer; Jeno Smith, chaplain and former Challengers editor; Charlotte Teas, former Royal Ambassadors staffer; Roy White, artist and designer; Grace (Atchley) Williams, former executive assistant; Sowgand Sheikholeslami, artist and designer; Susan (Watt) Word, former World Changers editor, and Tim Yarbrough, editor/executive director of the Arkansas Baptist News newspaper and former World Mission Journal-Baptist Young Men and World Changers editor.
Tim Yarbrough and Bill Bangham are former employees of the Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission.