News Articles

Hazel Morris’ 30-year legacy: far reach of former students

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–When she looks back on her life, Hazel Morris still feels a sense of awe at the ways God prepared her for ministry and used her as teacher and professor.

“I really am amazed that God chose me to do the job that he’s given me to do,” said Morris, who retired this summer after 30 years as an associate professor of childhood education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Born in Kentucky, Morris became a Christian at the age of 16. While her mother had been a Christian throughout Morris’ childhood, her father became a Christian when she was 7. That event had a big impact on her.

“It was his conversion experience that helped me to understand that becoming a Christian was something that happens inwardly and not who you were outwardly,” Morris said.

Her cousin, Harold Smith, encouraged her to attend college.

“We were poor and I didn’t really consider that a possibility,” Morris said. But within a few months she was at Eastern Kentucky State College where she received her undergraduate degree in education in 1961.

“Women didn’t have many opportunities to go to college, but those who went were nurses or teachers,” Morris said. “So I chose teaching — or it chose me. I’ve taught children in my church since I was 12.”

After college, Morris became a teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School in Miamisburg, Ohio, where she stayed for five years. During that time, she began to feel a call to Christian ministry.

The call came while Morris was a counselor at a Woman’s Missionary Union-sponsored camp one summer.

“I remember that one of the young women there was a Southwestern student.” Morris recalled, “And she said something like, ‘I give you one year to be at Southwestern.’ But it took me two years.”

Originally, she planned to pursue her education at a seminary closer to home. But some Southwestern graduates she met at the Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist conference center changed her mind.

“They said, ‘If you are interested in children’s work, you ought to go to Southwestern,'” Morris said. “I had not considered that possibility. It seemed so far away, it was like going to another country for me. Three weeks later, I got in my little car and drove to Texas.”

After two years at Southwestern, Morris received a master of religious education in 1968.

“I came to seminary with every intention of going back to Ohio and teaching school [and] just doing all the things that I did in the church, and being better equipped to do that,” she said.

God’s plan was different, however. Upon graduation from Southwestern, Morris went to work at a daycare center in Louisville. It was a short stay — only three months — but Morris believes God taught her things there that prepared her for the future.

From there, she went to work at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., where she intended to remain long-term. Three years later, she received a call from Joe Davis Heacock, dean of Southwestern’s school of religious education, who asked her if she wanted to join the faculty. In the fall of 1971, she returned to Seminary Hill and began teaching.

Looking back and looking ahead, Morris sees her life as a process with each stage being used of God to prepare her for the next. And now that the door is closing on her time at Southwestern, she believes he is providing other opportunities for the future.

This summer, Morris traveled to a Navajo Reservation in Arizona on a mission trip with Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, where she is children’s coordinator for the first through fifth grade Sunday school departments.

Almost immediately afterwards, Morris embarked on another trip, to London and Switzerland to teach at the European Baptist Convention meeting in July. Morris hopes to spend some time at Cambridge, England, where she has spent two sabbatical leaves in the past.

In the fall, Morris will be a guest professor at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas, teaching a course in children’s religious education one day a week.

“I’m just kind of taking it a day at a time and seeing what doors the Lord is opening,” Morris said. “Doing what God wants you to do is always a step forward.”

Like most people, Morris has had highs and lows in her ministry, but she said, no regrets.

“I love teaching, and I love the subject that I teach because I love children,” Morris said. “Probably the best part for me, though, has been the students, childhood ed majors who are serving around the convention today, some of them around the world.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HAZEL MORRIS.

    About the Author

  • Tony Imms