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Missionary, prof, convention leader honored by Southwestern music school

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–With careers that show a seminary music degree is for more than just ministers of music, a missionary, professor and state convention leader received Distinguished Service Awards from the school of church music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Feb. 22.

At one time William R. O’Brien, C.L. Bass and Bob Burroughs served as music ministers in local churches, but over their ministry careers one or more of them have also served as high school choral teacher, television show host, singer, composer, arranger, organist, author, choral conductor, pastor, missions administrator and missions statesman.

“I think these recipients have been wonderful role models for musicians everywhere,” said Benjamin Harlan, Southwestern dean of the school of church music, during a luncheon to honor the three at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary. “We’re fortunate they have chosen church music to be the area in which they have blessed us so greatly.”


An “innocent” request by Keith and Helen Jean Parks to pray that God would send missionaries to Indonesia began William and Dellanna O’Brien on their missionary work in the Southeast Asian country.

While the Parkses were at Southwestern on furlough from Indonesia, they often told the O’Briens, who were ministering at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, about the needs in Indonesia and how musical and artistic the people were there. The Parkses asked them to pray for workers to be sent there.

“Later it began to dawn on [William] that 100 persons might be willing to come to Wilshire, but no one wanted to go to Indonesia,” said Stanley Moore, Southwestern professor of church music, who introduced O’Brien at the luncheon.

The O’Briens were appointed as missionaries by the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) in 1962, the year after he received his bachelor of church music from Southwestern. From 1963-74, they served as music missionaries to Indonesia.

Doing pioneer music ministry in the country, the O’Briens gave piano and choral concerts, taught music classes and helped begin Baptist television work in Indonesia with concerts aired quarterly.

In 1972 O’Brien earned a master of church music from Southwestern and, in 1974, became executive director for public affairs with the Foreign Mission Board. Dellanna O’Brien served as executive director of the Woman’s Missionary Union from 1989-99. William was also the founding director of the Global Center at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., where he served as a professor of missions.

The O’Briens are now co-directors of BellMitra Associates, which has the purpose of equipping leaders to promote community reconciliation and networking. Last year in Indonesia, the O’Briens led an “Empowering for Reconciliation” workshop that included followers of Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism and Islam. William said “BellMitra” is an amalgamation of his and his wife’s names combined with an Indonesian word for “partner.”

Moore noted that “mitra” is an appropriate word for the O’Briens.

“God has blended their lives beautifully together to form a glorious duet of two equal and complementary but unique voices that continue to offer a sweet sacrifice of praise and service to our Lord,” Moore said.

William and Dellanna O’Brien met while he was a high school senior and she was a freshman at Hardin-Simmons University. Calling his wife his main inspiration, O’Brien said, “We have been partners, ‘mitra,’ all the way.”

“Both have been courageous and creative mission leaders who have challenged, admonished and spearheaded mission service among Southern Baptists and Christians around the world for four decades,” Moore said.

O’Brien thanked Southwestern for what the school and faculty contributed to his life.

“It was [my years at Southwestern] that brought every day new insights, just excitement of learning something I had not known before, and being able to apply it on the field,” he said. “I am deeply, deeply indebted.”


Standing at his kitchen sink washing dishes, C.L. Bass knew he was at a crossroads — accept a teaching position at a school he had never attended or stay at his alma mater and the job and home he thought he would have until retirement.

He had already turned down Southwestern music dean James McKinney because he had yet to complete his doctorate at North Texas State University. When the dean called a second time, Bass had graduated and no longer had that excuse.

“I’m going to be like Gideon,” Bass recalled praying. “I’m putting out the fleece. I need an answer.”

Almost immediately, he received a call from Joe King, professor of conducting at Southwestern and a man he had known since their days attending Oklahoma Baptist University.

“We really do need you. Would you consider coming?” Bass recalled King asking.

At that moment, Bass knew God was calling him to leave OBU and head for Fort Worth. Since 1977, Bass has taught music theory at the school, being named distinguished professor of music theory last year. He is also chairman of the music theory department.

In addition to teaching, Bass has been a prolific composer and writer. His works include 200 anthems, two short dramas, one book and three cantatas. His latest cantata, “We Have Seen the Lord,” will be premiered by Southwestern’s Oratorio Chorus in March.

His music education started when as a child, he would sit by his mother as she played organ at their church. In high school, he often substituted for her at First Baptist Church, Midwest City, Okla.

His teaching ministry began after his freshman year at OBU when he was asked to teach music theory. He would later teach music theory and composition at OBU before going to Southwestern.

As he received the reward, Bass thanked several people including the seminary; his family; William Reynolds, distinguished professor emeritus of church music, who had been an encourager throughout Bass’ life; and Bass’ wife, Charlene.

“I want to thank my wife. Without her, much of what I have done would not have been possible,” Bass said.

He added that she always knew when to leave him alone as he searched for the right chord.

“I’m grateful to her, and I love her very much,” Bass said.

Bass ended his comments with some advice to the alumni, faculty, family and students at the luncheon: “Pay attention to the people who are around you,” he said. “Make really good friends because those friends stay with you.”


With more than 1,300 compositions and service at local churches, educational institutions and state convention offices, Bob Burroughs has contributed much to music ministry. However, as he accepted his Distinguished Service Award, Burroughs thought of how much others had contributed to him.

“It is I who should be presenting the school of church music with a Distinguished Influence Award for it has been a major factor in my education and my ministry. Thank you very much,” said Burroughs, who received a master of church music from Southwestern in 1961.

Burroughs also thanked Esther, his wife of 40 years.

“I accept this honor you give me today with deep and abiding gratitude and with deep appreciation for Esther for seeing that I got out of bed at 4 a.m. twice a week to drive from Denison, Texas, to Fort Worth to make that 8 o’clock class at 5 ’til 8; for saving enough money to purchase a used portable typewriter so I could type my master’s thesis; and for allowing me to go to seminary by working to help us survive,” he said.

Since 1994, the Virginia native has been the director of the church music department of the Florida Baptist Convention. Prior to his current position, Burroughs served as music minister in Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia. He has also taught at Palm Beach Atlantic College, Samford University and Mercer University.

With the Florida convention, Burroughs assists associations, churches and individual ministers in the use of music in ministry. Part of his job includes preparing a weekly online newsletter for ministers of music. He also helps music ministries beyond Florida through his books, compositions and arrangements.

Harlan, who introduced Burroughs at the luncheon, said his youth choirs always included Burroughs’ “Jesus, My Lord, My Life, My All” in their repertoire.

“Bob Burroughs has an unbridled energy and enthusiasm for life that is infectious,” Harlan said, adding that while Burroughs is an unconditional friend and advocate, he can also tell it like it is.

“I stand here somewhat overwhelmed [by] the honor you have chosen to bestow upon me in the presence of such greatness,” Burroughs said, referring to O’Brien and Bass.

In accepting the award, Burroughs also thanked Carrie Newman, one of his former choir members who is now an elementary school music teacher in Arlington, Texas, in a low-income area.

“She loves children so much that she trains them, and she disciplines them and more importantly she gives them quality time, one on one in a world where they think they’re second-class citizens,” Burroughs said.

Burroughs said although Newman, who was at the luncheon, called him a major influence in his life, she and other young people he had ministered to shaped his life.


Seven music students, including four from Georgia, were honored at the luncheon. Lonnie Brown, a master of music student from Burleson, Texas, received the Lester E. Harrell Memorial Award, given since 1983 to an outstanding music student in memory of Harrell, an alumnus of the music school.

Joe Wooderson, a master of music student from Missouri, received the Edwin McNeely Music Award, given since 1959 to a student who exhibits outstanding leadership of congregational singing and public worship. McNeely served as a music professor at Southwestern for 40 years.

Jeff Bumgardner, a master of music student from Georgia, received the J. D. Riddle Memorial Award, established in 1956 in honor of the first state music secretary for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Vickie Martone, a master of music student from Georgia, received the Wayne (Polly) McNeely Piano Award, established in 1954 in honor of McNeely, a faculty member for 37 years and former chair of the piano department.

Byron Moss, a master of music student from Georgia, received the Carolyn Lott Award in Instrumental Church Music, established in 1999 in honor of Lott, an alumnus who died in 1999 at the age of 41. Her husband, R. Allen Lott, is an associate professor of music history at Southwestern.

Greg Bunn, a doctor of music arts student from Georgia, received the James McKinney Outstanding Performer Award, established in 1999 in honor of the former music school dean.

Todd Ray, a master of music student from Alabama, received the President’s Scholar Award.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: AWARD RECIPIENTS.

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  • Matt Sanders