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50th annual Ministers’ Wives Conference to feature Kay Warren

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist pastors’ wives will celebrate 50 years of annual gatherings Tuesday, June 21, in Nashville, Tenn.

The theme of this year’s Ministers’ Wives Conference is “Be aglow with the Spirit serving the Lord,” based on Romans 12:11, which says, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Kay Warren will speak about being a purpose-driven woman during the luncheon in the Nashville Renaissance Hotel’s East/Center Ballrooms at 11:45 a.m.

Warren and her husband, Rick, started Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., in their home in 1980 with seven people. Today, the church averages 20,000 people on campus each weekend. Kay Warren also is active in the fight against the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

“Kay has served with her husband in small churches and now a big church,” Ginny Whitten, president of this year’s Ministers’ Wives Conference, told the Florida Baptist Witness. “She is a breast cancer survivor and ministers to AIDS patients. She will have a lot to talk about.”

Whitten, whose husband, Ken, is pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., said the goal of the conference is to minister to ministers’ wives, some of whom may find little support in the churches where their husbands serve. Organizers are planning for 1,500 people at this year’s luncheon.

To purchase tickets, call LifeWay’s event registration office at 1-800-254-2022 or visit www.lifeway.com. Advance tickets, at $10 each, also may be ordered by sending a check payable to the SBC Ministers’ Wives Conference and a self-addressed stamped envelope to Immanuel Baptist Church, 1415 South Topeka, Wichita, KS 67211.

Tickets purchased at the SBC annual meeting will be $12 each.

The luncheon, always held on Tuesday during the SBC annual meeting, is open to all wives of ministers — pastors, staff members, chaplains, missionaries and denominational workers.


The SBC Ministers’ Wives Conference dates back to 1955, when two Georgia pastors’ wives, Ruth Matthews and Sue Wesberry, realized the importance of their state’s ministers’ wives conference and concluded that the national convention would benefit from such an organization. They made plans for a tea at the Muhlback Hotel in Kansas City during the 1956 convention and were overwhelmed by the response.

In her 1967 account of the beginning of the Ministers’ Wives Conference, Southern Baptist historian Loulie Latimer Owens said the platters of homemade cookies quickly ran out and the hotel was asked to intervene with its own supply. The ladies thought the day had been saved until a waiter approached with a bill.

“For the punch and extra cookies, the self-appointed committee owed $96.00. Who had $96.00? Did everybody together have $96.00?” Owens wrote. After some quick discussion, the tab was added to the room of C. DeWitt Matthews and later covered by the SBC Pastors’ Conference.

The convention met in Chicago the following year, and so did the Ministers’ Wives Conference. Wesberry’s husband, James, was elected president of the Pastors’ Conference, and Sue Wesberry presided over the tea in the grand ballroom of the Conrad Hilton Hotel. A full slate of officers was elected for 1958, Owens said.

During the early years of the Ministers’ Wives Conference, the programs varied to include addresses by wives and men along with skits, a debate, games and teas or luncheons, Owens noted.

“It is the desire of those who have carried the responsibility thus far that those who look back on the organization in the years ahead will feel that the beginning was good,” she wrote. “It is their wish that in succeeding years the conference will enlist an increasing number of new women to involve themselves in carrying it on. And it is their desire that the wives conference, adapting itself constantly to the changing times, will continue to provide inspiration and fellowship, and that it will always help to interpret the high significance of the unique role of the individual minister’s wife.”

In 1963, the ministers’ wives posthumously recognized the distinguished service of one of their own, Willie Turner Dawson, a Baptist teacher and lecturer. Her husband, J.M. Dawson, was pastor of First Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, for 31 years, briefly served as editor of the Baptist Standard and was the first director of the Baptist Joint Committee.

Willie Dawson issued a public challenge to the Southern Baptist Convention in 1930 and subsequently saw a rapid rise in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions, and she was even nominated to serve as an SBC president.

In her honor, each year the Mrs. J.M. Dawson Award recognizes a “distinct denominational contribution beyond the local church” and honors “outstanding Christian character and service to others.” Recent recipients of the award have been Barbara O’Chester, wife of Harold O’Chester, former pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Texas; Joyce Rogers, wife of Adrian Rogers, former pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, Tenn.; and Jeanette Henry, wife of Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla.

In 1996, Nancy Sullivan, wife of John Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, established the Ministers’ Wives Endowment Fund to help reduce the cost of the annual luncheons so that each minister’s wife could afford to attend.

Sullivan served as president of the conference in 1992, and once she realized the challenge of raising money to cover the luncheon’s cost, she volunteered to help in future years through the endowment fund.

“The money is there. We just need to find it with Lord’s help,” she told Baptist Press. “The president works very hard to raise the money for the luncheon on top of planning the meeting. Having served in that position, I know the pressure that comes with it. It’s a pleasure, but it’s a terrible feeling not to know where money is coming from.”

Sullivan set an initial fundraising goal of $100,000 for the endowment, and she quickly exceeded it. Her latest goal is $300,000, and the total now stands at just over $225,000. Each year, the interest gained on the fund is used toward the overall cost of the luncheon, which then reduces the individual cost for wives.

If she doesn’t reach the $300,000 goal within two years, Sullivan said the endowment will not be as effective as in years past.

“Luncheons are costing $25-$30 per person. As you can see, $10 is not even half,” she said, noting the money will have to come from the minister’s wife’s pocket if not through the endowment.

Sullivan works to keep the price low because she believes so firmly in the purpose of the conference.

“This is a time when we gather for inspiration, for fellowship and renewing friendships,” she said.

Contributions may be made to the fund by contacting Sullivan at the Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32207.

In addition to Ginny Whitten, officers of the conference this year are Fern Sutton of Two Rivers Baptist Church, Nashville, Tenn., vice president; Barbara Fox of Immanuel Baptist Church, Wichita, Kan., recording secretary/treasurer; and Darla Grimm of First Southern Baptist Church, Sioux Falls, S.D., corresponding secretary.

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  • Erin Curry