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Mormon writer looking forward to ‘John the Baptist’ returning

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (BP)–At least one member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is looking forward to the arrival of thousands of Southern Baptists in Salt Lake City for this June’s SBC annual meeting. He especially hopes to see a man who made a profound impression on him as a boy, a man he remembers as “John the Baptist” in Brigham City, Utah.
“John the Baptist,” John Embery, is now an Albuquerque pastor and New Mexico missions leader.
The young boy Embery left a favorable impression on now is a columnist for the Deseret News, an LDS-owned newspaper in Salt Lake City.
The two met in Brigham City, where Embery was pastor of First Baptist Church from 1962-73.
On Dec. 27 of last year, the Deseret News published a column by Jerry Johnston titled, “Brigham folks learned to love their own John the Baptist.”
“Next summer the Southern Baptist Convention will do its convening in Salt Lake City,” Johnston wrote. “And there’s scuttlebutt afoot about ‘Bible bashes’ and overt missionary work with words like ‘evangelize’ and ‘witness’ flying about. But I doubt it will be like that.
“Personally, I think it’s going to be more like the day the Rev. John Embery strode into tiny Brigham City and hung out his shingle as the local Baptist minister.”
“John the Baptist” is a name Johnston said “some locals would call (Embery)– at first with a wink, but later with affection and admiration.”
Today Embery is pastor of Celebration Baptist Church, Rio Rancho, N.M., and church extension director for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. “(B)ut in the ’60s and early ’70s he was one of the few Protestant ministers that many Brigham City Mormons got to see in action,” Johnston wrote. “And we liked what we saw.
“When a counselor in our LDS bishopric was felled by a heart attack,” Johnston continued, “the Rev. Embery was quickly on the scene to offer condolences and help to the widow.”
Embery told the Baptist New Mexican that on another occasion he was asked by a Mormon family to sing a particular song at a funeral. Embery, a poet by hobby, then wrote some new words to make the song theologically sound.
The columnist recounted that Embery “mixed the mud for the foundation (of First Baptist’s church building) himself.”
Embery remembers it a little differently. He said the mortar he mixed was for the bricks, not the foundation, of a new church house that replaced an old chicken house.
Before writing the column, Johnston revisited First Baptist Church and asked members to share some of their memories of Embery.
One recalled, Johnston said, “He was very caring. He’d go to the hospital in the morning and visit people — regardless of their faith. Then at night he’d go back and visit them again.”
“Brigham City’s hospital was small, only 24 beds, I think,” said Embery. Visiting the hospital every day was part of his effort to become known as a part of the community. Embery remembers doctors telling him, “This guy doesn’t need me; he needs you.”
The director of missions for the area, Earl V. Jackson, told Johnston, “He has always been the all-around pastor. He’s never in town long before the city fathers — and everyone else for that matter — knows he’s around.”
Embery gained credibility in the community, and he was appointed to several community organizations, including the mayor’s committee on drug abuse, the mayor’s committee on senior adult affairs, the Red Cross board and the Northern Utah Family Life Committee.
“I intended to be a part of the community, to make a contribution and be a part of the lives of people — regardless of their religion,” said Embery, who additionally was president of the pastors’ conference of the new Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention in 1964-1965 and president of the convention from 1965-67 and 1987-88, when he had moved to the pastorate of Calvary Baptist Church, Boise, Idaho.
Johnston recalled being a part of a singing group that was asked to perform in one of the services at First Baptist.
Embery says Johnston may have been a member of a high school group he had asked to sing. Embery often invited outside groups to perform because “they’d have to stay for the preaching,” he explained, and they would always hear a clear presentation of gospel.
“If you want to encounter people, you have to be where they are or invite them to be where you are,” said Embery.
Johnston remembered, “The message that day — interestingly enough — was about missionary work. And the talk was full of all of those missionary terms that make non-believers jittery.
“(Embery) did move a little like John Wayne, I remember, but he didn’t sound like John Wayne. He sounded more like John the Beloved,” Johnston recounted. “And for a few moments, I was capable of following John Embery pretty much anywhere.”
Johnston admitted to hearing some unfavorable talk about Baptists through the years. But because of Embery, “the jibes I’ve heard . have all gone down with a grain of salt. I know better.”
But how does Johnston feel about several thousand Southern Baptists walking the streets of Salt Lake City this June?
“Because of the Rev. Embery, I’m anxiously awaiting (their) arrival . . They’ll be bringing many things to share. And they’ll be bringing a lot of good people to share them.
“Who knows?” he wrote hopefully. “They may even be bringing Brigham City’s ‘John the Baptist.'”

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  • John Loudat