GEORGETOWN, Texas (BP) — Cecil Ray, former Southern Baptist stewardship leader and state convention executive, died Aug. 23 in Georgetown, Texas. He was 88.
Ray led Southern Baptists’ Planned Growth in Giving stewardship emphasis during the 1980s and was executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) from 1976-83.
Ray and his daughter Susan, a polio victim, wrote the 1985 book “Cooperation: The Baptist Way to a Lost World” for the stewardship initiative.
“Cecil Ray was a visionary leader with many strong qualities,” said Milton A. Hollifield Jr., current executive director-treasurer of the North Carolina convention.
“He was a man of integrity, and he had a deep level of commitment to his family,” the BSC’s Hollifield said. “Dr. Ray recognized the importance of being a good steward with our material possessions. He practiced this in his own life and he also developed excellent resources to help Southern Baptists obey God in this aspect of discipleship by liberally investing financially in the work of God’s Kingdom.”
“He was a no-nonsense, visionary leader who challenged N.C. Baptists,” said Johnny Ross, a representative at the BSC for GuideStone Financial Resources who was in the North Carolina convention’s Sunday School department when Ray became the state exec in 1976.
Ross said North Carolina Baptists were challenged by Ray to be good stewards and to participate in the Bold Mission Thrust, the Southern Baptist Convention’s evangelism emphasis at the time.
“Stewardship was his expertise and special interest,” Ross said.
Ray focused attention on the giving and going aspects to advance God’s Kingdom. Targeting Sunday School and evangelism, Ray encouraged churches to hold revivals and to find ways to reach the lost.
“He cared deeply about convention staff and gave strong leadership,” Ross added. “Dr. Ray and my immediate supervisor and dear friend, Robert Stewart, helped me to understand from the very beginning of my employment with the convention the high privilege and awesome responsibility to serve North Carolina Baptists.”
Ray, the son of a pastor, became a Christian at age 7 and was ordained at age 17. He preached his first sermon in a church where his father once had pastored.
Ray was born Dec. 9, 1922, in Fort Worth, Texas. He received his high school, college and graduate degrees in Texas, including theology/divinity degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Howard Payne University.
Ray played high school football while juggling his schoolwork and a part-time job as a bell hop at a local hotel. He also played football in junior college.
And he married his high school sweetheart, Charlene Andrews.
During World War II, Ray sold war bonds, was a schoolteacher, Boy Scout leader and pastored four churches in Texas. He started and led Arnett-Benson Baptist Church, Lubbock, Texas, from 1946-56, growing the congregation to a membership of 1,500.
After his daughter Susan contracted polio and almost died in 1952, Ray was determined to help her have the best life possible. He built specialized equipment that she could use to help her breathe and travel and, in the 1960s, worked with an IBM volunteer engineer to develop a specialized typewriter so Susan could write.
Ray took on more leadership within Texas as superintendent of missions for the 70-church San Antonio Baptist Association. In 1960, he was recognized by the Baptist General Convention of Texas as the Texas Baptist “Father of the Year” for providing a “new way of life” for his daughter.
He went on to serve on the Baptist General Convention of Texas staff as secretary of the Cooperative Program and church finance department and was promoted to director of the stewardship division.
J.W. Hutchens, also a Texas native, knew Ray and his family when he was younger. Ray hired Hutchens to work at the Baptist General Convention of Texas and later brought him to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Hutchens was the BSC’s director of evangelism from 1982-92.
“Two things that always got my attention about Cecil was his wonderful mind and his organizational ability,” Hutchens said. “He was always prepared for any meeting, as he had done his homework and he had a plan as to how to get the job done.”
Ray retired in 1988, moving to Georgetown, Texas, where he remained active in the Williamson Baptist Association and taught Sunday School at Crestview Baptist Church in Georgetown, Texas, until 2004 when his health would no longer allow him to teach.
In addition to his book on Baptist cooperation, Ray authored “The Holy Spirit and His Ministry” (1953); “Living the Responsible Life” (1975); “Christian Family Money Management” (1969); “How to Specialize in Christian Living” (1981); and “Witnessing-Giving, These Go Together” (1988). His most widely used book, Living the Responsible Life, emphasized all aspects of Christian living and has been translated into Spanish, Korean and several African languages.
He was preceded in death by his wife and daughter. Survivors include his son Lanny Ray of Austin, Texas; a granddaughter; and two great-grandchildren.
Among Memorials: Crestview Baptist Church, Georgetown, Texas; the Cooperative Program of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina; the Cooperative Program of the Baptist General Convention of Texas; and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Reported by the staff of the Biblical Recorder, newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.