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Historical Commission trustees honor staff, agency’s legacy


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Twenty-six trustees of the Southern Baptist Historical Commission gathered with the 10 members of the commission staff for what was an emotional last annual meeting of the agency April 21.

The focus of the meeting was to complete the transfer of the commission’s work to the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives and the Southern Baptist Historical Society following the closure of the commission. The Historical Commission will be closed June 19 as mandated by SBC messenger approval of the convention’s “Covenant for a New Century” restructuring.

Trustees approved a recommendation that all assets of the Historical Commission not otherwise assigned be transferred to the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives after the commission is closed.

“When I was asked to serve as a trustee of the Historical Commission, I was overwhelmed (to be a) part of a group such as this,” noted Sherry Parrish, Michigan trustee. Parrish wept openly as she spoke of working with “such distinguished people” as the commission staff and trustees. “Although this is a very sad occasion, I have every confidence that … God will preserve (our work),” she said.

“It’s a difficult thing to take work and perform it with as much zeal and kindness and aptitude as this group has done …,” stated Tom Nettles, Illinois trustee of the Historical Commission. Nettles reflected on how people like to have a sense of hope, noting it would have been easy for the commission staff to have their sense of stewardship diminished after messengers voted to close the agency. “So I would just like to express a word of personal appreciation both for the sense of (the staff) doing this before God and … for the Christian kindness that was always present in (my) personal contact (with them).”

Slayden Yarbrough, the commission’s interim executive director, also was moved by the occasion. Yarbrough commended the staff for undergoing heavy burdens even before the dissolution of the commission was announced both in their personal lives and with the declining health of the commission’s former longtime executive director Lynn E. May Jr. and his subsequent death.


“I cannot adequately convey how this staff in a quiet, caring manner assumed major additional burdens brought about by Dr. May’s illnesses,” Yarbrough said. “And they did so in such a way that those of us who were trustees at the time did not realize the gravity of the situation. … I unashamedly say that I have grown to not only appreciate all of you but have grown to love each of you,” he noted through tears.

During the meeting, trustees voted to transfer a set of desktop publishing equipment, one set of office furniture, miscellaneous office equipment and small office items and supplies not needed by the SBHLA (as determined by Yarbrough and the director of the SBHLA, Bill Sumners) to the Southern Baptist Historical Society with the Historical Commission’s closure. Trustees also voted to provide up to $1,500 from commission funds to be used to transfer this equipment and the society’s publication inventory to its new home at Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee.

Commission trustees also acknowledged a depository agreement between the SBHLA and the SBHS regarding ownership of the society’s collection of books and other historical materials during the meeting. By December 1998 the SBHS will be given a list of resources in the SBHLA that belong to the SBHS.

In other action, trustees:

— approved a schedule of payment to the commission’s staff of an incentive check on April 29, a severance/early retirement check on May 14 and an annual bonus check on May 28 as approved by trustees during their 1996 annual meeting.

— adopted resolutions of appreciation for May, who died in 1996, and Mendel Lee, former commission trustee from South Carolina who died in March. A copy of the resolution on May was presented to his widow, Alta, and his two daughters, Dianne Skelton and Debbie May, during the trustee meeting.

The resolution on Mendel Lee will be presented to Elva Lee by their friend and Historical Commission volunteer Lamar Brown when Brown returns to South Carolina.

Five new Historical Commission trustees were welcomed by fellow trustees following a time of new trustee orientation April 20. They will join other Historical Commission trustees in serving until closure of the agency on June 19. New commission trustees are: from Ohio, Roberta (Bobbie) Byrd; from Mississippi, Rev. Robert M. Hanvey; from Maryland, Nancy Hatfield; from Oklahoma, Jack W. Robbins; and from Oregon, Donald J. Sorensen.

The agency trustees recognized and affirmed the staff of the Historical Commission for their contributions to all Southern Baptists by presenting each staff member with a corsage or boutonniere, the framed prints “Abrams Creek Baptizing” and “Rainy Night Revival” by artist Lee Roberson, and a check. Trustee chairman Ron Martin said the gifts were only “a small token” of the trustees’ appreciation for the staff and their service during the difficult days of the commission’s closure.

The trustee body also presented plaques to Andy Rawls, director of audio visual services at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who has recorded the Historical Commission’s meetings since 1974, and to Lamar Brown, Historical Commission volunteer since 1985. Brown, a South Carolina layman, has used a week of his vacation time each year to do volunteer work for the commission in Nashville.

A clock given by the trustees was presented to Janis Yarbrough, wife of Slayden Yarbrough, by trustee chairman Ron Martin. In making the presentation, Martin cited her sacrifice and support of her husband during the year he lived in Nashville and headed the commission following May’s retirement and death.

The meeting concluded with a celebration event hosted by Historical Commission trustees for former and current staff of the agency and their families, former and current trustees of the commission and other special guests. Distinguished guests attending the celebration event were James T. Draper Jr., president of the Baptist Sunday School Board, and Harold C. Bennett, former chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.

In addition to a reception, the celebration event included a slide presentation covering the history of the Historical Commission by Andy Rawls. The presentation noted that in the commission’s 46 years of existence its work has included: selling more than 15,000 two-volume sets of its Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists project; distributing more than 65,000 copies of the commission’s journal, Baptist History and Heritage; selling more than 5 million copies of the commission’s four pamphlet series; contributing nearly 300 articles to the Baptist Sunday School Board’s former publication The Quarterly Review; and placing more than 4,000 copies of the “Resource Kit for Your Church’s History” in the hands of churches needing assistance with preserving their church’s history and celebrating church anniversaries. The presentation also noted the accomplishments of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives since it began operation under the Historical Commission. Since 1985, the SBHLA has tripled its archival holdings. Side by side, the archival collection would be eight-10ths of a mile long. These holdings have contributed to 30 books, 24 dissertations and 40 articles and papers done by SBHLA researchers.

“We can all look back with pride, knowing that the Historical Commission fulfilled its assignments with competence and care,” Yarbrough concluded, “and in so doing we served not only Southern Baptists but the cause of God’s kingdom.”