More than 60 former staff members, trustees and volunteers of the Brotherhood Commission gathered for a reunion at the 20-year mark of the closing of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity.
Photo by Bill Bangham
James D. “Jim” Williams, former Brotherhood Commission president, speaks during a reunion of the former SBC entity’s staff, trustees and volunteers at the 20-year point since its closure.
Some of the attendees came from as far as Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia to celebrate the ministry which made Memphis its home for 59 of its 94 years of existence. In 1997, the former Home Mission Board, Brotherhood Commission and Radio and Television Commission were merged into the newly formed North American Mission Board.
As an SBC entity, the Brotherhood Commission developed programs 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) and could not travel, connected with former colleagues via Skype.
Former Brotherhood Commission President James D. “Jim” Williams, in remarks at the July 29 gathering, said it was “hard to believe” it has been 20 years since the entity closed.
“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 program leaders, volunteer involvement and its staff. At the time of its closure, 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.
During the years of his presidency, Williams said, “we had great trustees, all of whom worked doubly hard to keep SBC politics out of our operations.” They sought to keep the Brotherhood Commission operating, he said, but a vote at the 1995 SBC annual meeting prevailed to merge the three SBC entities into NAMB beginning in 1997. Former Brotherhood trustees Jack Knox, Don Varnado and Bob Hill were in attendance at the reunion.
State Brotherhood leaders, Williams said, were faithful in carrying out the commission’s programs to associations and churches.
“If we had time we could have a roll call of state leaders that truly embodied the significant missions education/involvement of men and boys,” Williams said, pointing to former state Brotherhood leaders in attendance at the reunion, including Paul Harrell of Mississippi, John LaNoue and Jim Furguson, both of Texas Baptist Men, and Brotherhood staff member and Tennessee state leader Tim Bearden.
Regarding volunteer involvement, Williams noted, “A special salute is due Woman’s Missionary Union as together [we] challenged laypeople not only to learn about missions but to do missions,” Williams said. “Furthermore, we salute all those special persons from other [SBC entities] 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,” Williams said. “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.”
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, director of missions for the Mid-South Baptist Association in Memphis and 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.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bill Bangham is the retired editor-in-chief of theCOMMISSION magazine for the International Mission Board; Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the Arkansas Baptist News newspaper.)