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HMB Heritage Day celebrates 152 years of SBC service

ATLANTA (BP)–Southern Baptist humorist Grady Nutt was there. So were former Home Mission Board Presidents J.B. Lawrence and Courts Redford. And more recent employees Leonard Irvin, Bill Hogue, Beverly Hammack and missionary Freddie Mae Bason.

Some were there in spirit, others in person. The presence of several, long deceased, lived again as their names were invoked in humorous tales or stories of commitment to home missions. They were among HMB employees past and present who were recognized March 10 as the agency celebrated 152 years of home mission leadership in the final months of its existence.

On June 19 the board will be merged, along with the Brotherhood Commission and Radio and Television Commission, into the North American Mission Board. The agency set aside the Heritage Day to honor employees and retirees for their contribution to the agency founded as the Board of Domestic Missions in 1845.

But this was no funeral. Archival film footage featuring Nutt set the tone for the day’s program as the late comedian explained missions in the popular 1975 documentary titled, “Explain Me a Missionary.”

Returning employees and retirees told stories of how hard it was to get funding for their departments or adequate furniture for their office through cash-strapped years.

Leonard Irvin, retired as vice president of planning, explained how he went for an extended period without a desk or chair for his new office. And when he returned from one of his first trips to the mission field, he was called into the office of Executive Secretary-Treasurer Courts Redford and grilled on an extravagant charge on his expense account.

“Dr. Redford looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Leonard, didn’t those missionaries you visited have a car?’ To which I replied, ‘Yes, they did.’ ‘Then why did you rent one?'”

Irvin said he was shocked to be taken to task because he rented a car on the trip, an unheard-of luxury in those days.

Then there was the time Margrette Stevenson, the board’s first female vice president, heard laughter coming from the employee benefits office. The office had received an insurance claim for maternity benefits from a missionary who seemed to regard honesty as the highest virtue at all times.

In response to the question, “Was this claim the result of an accident?” the missionary wrote, “Yes.” On the following line in response to “Where did this accident occur?” the individual wrote, “Glorieta,” Southern Baptists’ national retreat center in New Mexico.

Lee Adams served 42 years, beginning her tenure under J.B. Lawrence, and continuing through the lean years following the 1928 embezzlement crises which severely crippled the agency. Adams, who served as administrative secretary to the president, recalled the lack of funds which allowed only one stapling machine to be used among several offices.

Bason, who has served as a home missionary 38 years, thanked board employees for their support of her ministry to the homeless in southeast Atlanta.

“The Home Mission Board staff has always supported us” at the Sanctuary Family Night Shelter, she told the packed audience in the HMB’s Day Auditorium in Alpharetta, Ga. “Thank you for caring. You have made my life.”

In continuing the heritage theme, HMB Interim President Ernest Kelley noted, “The North American Mission Board will be a new agency, but it will not be an agency without heritage. Every person in this auditorium is a part of that heritage. Every one of those missionaries (since 1845), and those who supported them, including you as HMB staff and retirees, is part of the heritage of home missions. Heritage is what our predecessors have passed down to us, but it is also what we pass on to those who follow us.”

One thread interwoven into the memories of the past was the awareness of constant change through the years at the agency.

Hogue, the board’s first vice president for evangelism, told how an attempt to break the evangelism unit from the board resulted in the unit being elevated to a division and being allowed to work directly with state conventions to help to plan their evangelism strategy.

Now retired as executive secretary-treasurer of the California Southern Baptist Convention, Hogue thanked the board for its support of struggling conventions in new work areas of the nation.

“The Home Mission Board is the lifeblood of states like California,” Hogue said. “When I went to that convention, we had 905 churches and missions, and when I retired we had 1,660 worshiping in 54 languages each Sunday. We could not have done it without the help of the Home Mission Board.”

Hogue now serves as a member of the Implementation Task Force which is overseeing creation of the new home mission agency, and he chairs the NAMB presidential search committee.

Current or former HMB missionaries, employees or other individuals who have a story to tell about their experience with the Home Mission Board are encouraged to send their recollection, on one page, to Earnest Kelley, 4200 North Point Parkway, Alpharetta, GA 30202-4174. The stories will be bound and placed on permanent display in the NAMB Heritage Room.

    About the Author

  • Joe Westbury