FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — Hunter Street Baptist Church was our family’s home church when I was a boy growing up in Birmingham, Ala. The church, which was located on the western side of Birmingham at the time, was one of the truly tall-steeple congregations in the state. When I was in the junior department, the church members issued a call to a brilliant and articulate minister from Texas to serve as their next pastor.
That pastor, Darold H. Morgan, followed Charles C. Bowles, who himself was widely recognized as an outstanding preacher. Morgan brought to the Hunter Street pulpit a sense of seriousness regarding pastoral ministry, while embodying the profound importance of studying and interpreting the Bible well.
He regularly stressed the implications of the Gospel message for all aspects of life, always with an eye on ethics. He was a thoughtful teacher of Holy Scripture who had been deeply influenced by the legendary W.T. Conner, professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Morgan earned both M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees.
A close friend and classmate of James Leo Garrett Jr., it is hard to calculate the shaping role that Conner had on these two Baptist giants. Morgan married another bright Southwestern student named Elizabeth Johnson in 1947. They were married for 68 years before Dr. Elizabeth Johnson Morgan, an English professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, passed away in 2015.
During those days of my youth, we were encouraged to sit up close to the front of the church and to take notes on the pastor’s sermon. Those who did so were part of a group known as “The Pastor’s Pals.” Frankly, in those days I was much more interested in being pals with the pastor’s two sons, Tim and Marshall, one who was a year older than I and the other a year younger. Tim and Marshall became my close friends during those years. Thus, I was able to get a look at the Morgan household from a vantage point other than that of a kid in the pew looking up at the person in the pulpit. What I found in Darold Morgan was a person with an authentic walk with God and commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, expressed in genuine kindness and care for others.
That kindness and care, which first became evident to a 10-year old boy, expressed itself time and time again over the next half-century. When I was exploring seminary opportunities in the 1970s, my childhood pastor became a trusted friend and helped guide me to Southwestern Seminary, a place that he dearly loved and an institution that rightly recognized him as one of their truly distinguished alums. It so happened that a new faculty member was joining the Southwestern faculty at the time I started my seminary studies. Tommy Lea, that faculty member who would eventually become the dean of the School of Theology at the seminary, had been greatly influenced by Morgan during his student days at Southwestern. Lea had also served as pastor at Hunter Street and, like Morgan, had a formative role in my life.
Dr. Morgan authored a book called Patterns for the Pilgrimage: Biblical Patterns for Effective Living (Abingdon, 1966). More than once, he served as the counselor for my own personal pilgrimage. He preached my ordination sermon and pressed me with challenging questions during the time of my ordination council. He seemingly always modeled the best of what it means to be a Christian gentleman and statesman. His commitments to and longing for the unity of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ were infectious. He prioritized the importance of “the communion of saints,” and gladly confessed the church as “one, holy, universal, and apostolic.”
The former Hunter Street pastor was a marvelous denominational leader, especially during his years as pastor of the Cliff Temple Baptist Church, a large and significant congregation in Dallas, where he served following his years at Hunter Street, as well as during his many years as the visionary president of the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (now GuideStone).
My first pastorate in the early 1980s was in Brooklyn, N.Y. One weekend, the Annuity Board president was coming to New York City for a meeting of the Board of Directors of the American Bible Society. I asked him if he would speak at our church. He said that he wanted to visit with me, my wife Lanese and our little boys for lunch on that Sunday but only after listening to me preach. I was young and inexperienced. I stumbled through the sermon that day, but Dr. Morgan provided such wonderful encouragement for me. I will never forget. He was one of my biggest cheerleaders along the way. He was thrilled when I was invited to join the faculty at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the late 1980s. He offered insights from his reservoir of wisdom on more than one occasion during my years as president at Union University and at Trinity International University. Recently, he expressed joyful enthusiasm when the announcement was made that I would be returning to his beloved Southwestern.
The last letter I received from him just last month was filled with memories about his days at Southwestern seven decades ago. His communications to me were always characterized by warmth and personal reflections. Both his letters and phone calls also included words of instruction and exhortation for he was never shy about his convictions or his opinions. He was an avid reader with unceasing intellectual curiosity, always sharing thoughts with me about the latest book he had read. A good book was always the perfect gift for him. “Baptist Theologians,” a volume that I co-edited with Timothy George, is dedicated to Darold H. Morgan.
Dr. Morgan baptized Lanese when she was 9 years old at Hunter Street. Our lives have his stamp upon them. We enjoyed visits to his lovely second home on a campground in Glorieta, N.M., and have been the recipient of his kindness and influence in ways that are beyond description. With immense thanksgiving to God, we both express our heartfelt gratitude for the privilege of being part of “the pastor’s pals,” not just in the mid-1960s, but, also, during every decade that has followed until now.
Long after his retirement from the Annuity Board, he served as a board member at Dallas Baptist University, the Hawaii Baptist Academy and other ministries. Beyond that, he continued to teach a Sunday School class on a regular basis well into his 90s. He was a man who deeply loved his family, his children, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. Now, at the age of 95, Darold Morgan has been called home to be with his Lord. Indeed, Baptists have lost one of their finest statesmen; we have lost a special mentor and dear friend. Yet, we weep not as those who have no hope, but as those who, because of what Christ has done for us, look forward to the day of resurrection and glorious reunion. Thanks be to God for the life, ministry, influence and legacy of Darold H. Morgan!