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Longtime race relations worker envisions ongoing Baptist progress

JACKSON, Miss. (BP)–Navigating deserted back roads in complete darkness. A cross burned on a lawn. Bright headlights following too closely, too late at night. Anonymous threats. Being misunderstood by peers and criticized by strangers. Living long enough to see a dream realized and his beloved state changed.

Richard Brogan’s 43-year ministry of racial reconciliation could be the basis for a Hollywood screenplay, if only Hollywood made movies about ministers who faithfully follow God’s call despite the danger to life and career.

Brogan, who retired at the end of the year from his position as the consultant for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board’s consultant for black church extension, chaplaincy, seminary extension and student summer missions, reminisced about the providence and protection provided by the Lord at crucial points in his ministry.

“I was placed in a position of being a peacemaker and, hopefully, creating some good will between two races that were at each other’s throats,” he reflected.

There was definitely a shortage of good will in the 1960s for making peace between the races in Mississippi, as anyone who lived through that era can attest. Brogan forged ahead, however.

“I remember being followed home from a meeting at an African American church in the Delta. An African American preacher and I were riding together that night. The car followed us closely for several miles; we didn’t know what was going to happen,” he recalled.

The car eventually dropped away, and Brogan and his passenger arrived home safely.

“That was terrifying,” Brogan said.

There was also a cross burned on his lawn late one night when Brogan lived in the community of Soso in Jones County.

“Nothing happens instantly. The work of racial reconciliation was a challenge then, and it continues to be a challenge today,” he said.

Brogan became immersed in the ministry of racial reconciliation while serving as a contract consultant for Mississippi Baptists from 1967-71, working with the late W.P. Davis, a Mississippi Baptist legend for his forward-looking relationships with African American churches and ministers in the state during the time of greatest turmoil among the races.

Brogan signed on as a full-time consultant with the convention board in August 1971, and was director of work with National Baptists until he departed 1978 to become president of predominantly African American Mississippi Baptist Seminary in Jackson.

Brogan returned to the Baptist Building in 1988 to direct Mississippi Baptists’ program to facilitate new church starts in the African American community, and he eventually took on other duties including work with chaplains and the Mississippi River Ministry.

He foresees a promising road ahead for those who inherit his pioneering work as it moves toward maturity.

“I hope more and more African Americans will be given the opportunity — and will accept the responsibility — of helping shape the Mississippi Baptist Convention for the future,” Brogan said. “I believe the future belongs to Christians who can do ministry together; everyone has something to bring to the Lord’s table.”

Statistics from Southern Baptist Convention agencies indicate that the strongest rates of growth in the denomination are increasingly being recorded by churches that do not fit the traditional ethnic and racial profiles of the convention.

Southern Baptists count about 2,800 African African churches in the SBC, with about 25 African American churches in Mississippi relating to the state convention.

A growing number of Mississippi Baptist associations also are welcoming African American churches into their fellowship, records indicate.

“From these churches will come missionaries, church staffers, denominational workers and many others who will carry the message of Christ around the world,” Brogan said.

Much can be learned about the Lord’s work whenever churches of diverse racial backgrounds get together, he noted.

“The ‘white’ church can learn about worship from the ‘black’ church. The ‘black’ church can learn about organization and structure from the ‘white’ church. There are a lot of ways we can all become stronger in accomplishing the ministries the Lord left us to do.

“We need to work hard at being the church of Jesus Christ, as he meant it to be. If we can do that, we can change the culture,” Brogan said.

    About the Author

  • William H. Perkins Jr.