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N.C. convention president remembered as peacemaker

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (BP)–The death of Jerry Pereira, president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina for the past four years, of bone cancer Nov. 7 cast a pall over the convention’s proceedings in Winston-Salem.

The Nov. 10-12 annual meeting, however, also has been a celebration of Pereira’s life. The overriding description of Pereira among attendees is that he was a man of God who could bring both sides of convention debate together.

“He was really a bridge builder,” said David Horton of Greensboro, who was elected as the convention’s new president Nov. 11. “I knew him for 10 years. He worked with all people without compromising his theological stand. Jerry did a masterpiece job with that.”

Pereira, 50, was pastor of First Baptist Church in Swannanoa in the western part of the state. His death came just three days before the start of the yearly convention. He spent much of the past six months in Winston-Salem for chemotherapy and was in the Mission of St. Joseph Hospital in Asheville when he died.

“His last wish was for people to share Jesus and proclaim His Word as long as you have breath and life to do so,” said BSC Executive Director James Royston. “I told him goodbye Friday morning and I have a feeling he knew that I meant until we meet on the other side.”

Pastor Steve Griffith of Osborne Baptist Church in Eden, the 2003 president of the North Carolina Baptist Pastors’ Conference, described Pereira as a great leader.

“He had a heart for our state and a heart for our pastors,” Griffith said. “He will certainly be missed. We’re glad for him to be in heaven. As divisive as things have been [among North Carolina Baptists], he was a real peacemaker.

“When you looked at him, you saw Jesus. He had a good working knowledge of our state, how different personalities can conflict if you put them in the wrong circumstances. He knew how to tweak that to avoid conflicts when it wasn’t necessary.”

Pereira videotaped a message for the convention in case he was too sick to attend. In it, the pastor spoke from Ezekiel 37:1-4 about breathing new life into the state convention.

“In Ezekiel 36, the Bible spoke about the restoration of Israel,” Pereira said. “In chapter 37, God speaks to Ezekiel about his vision. The valley is a desolate situation and Ezekiel sees dry bones. These are the same elements that attack Christians today. I pray that we can breathe new life into our convention. I pray to God for revival.”

Pereira was first elected president in November 2001. Ironically, he decided to run for the position after Charles Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, dropped out because of a recurrence of his cancer.

Among Pereira’s final appearances as state convention president was on April 2 in Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Binkley Chapel as part of North Carolina Baptist Day. He frequented Binkley as a master of divinity student at Southeastern, where he received his degree in 1981. He was the 1997 president of Southeastern’s National Alumni Association.

“The Southeastern Seminary family is deeply saddened by the passing of Rev. Jerry Pereira,” Bart Neal, Southeastern’s interim president, said. “His outstanding ministry as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Swananoa, as well as his leadership in our state convention, will be greatly missed. Rev. Pereira was a distinguished and faithful alumnus of Southeastern. Our prayers are with Mrs. Pereira and the entire family.”

Paige Patterson was president at Southeastern when Pereira spoke in the spring. Patterson, now president at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, also praised Pereira’s leadership.

“Jerry Pereira was one of those rare leaders who arise who had the ability to stand firm on his convictions and at the same time be lovingly compassionate toward all. We shall miss him profoundly,” Patterson said.

Pereira became pastor of First Baptist Church in 1985, three years after marrying Sally Wilson, the daughter of T.W. Wilson, Billy Graham’s executive assistant and a longtime friend. Pereira spoke often at Graham’s schools of evangelism. Graham thought so much of Pereira that he once called him one of the most faithful and dedicated pastors he knew, while Pereira often referred to Graham as his mentor.

With Periera’s death just three days before the start of the BSC annual meeting, Bob Foy, who had been first vice president, presided at the meeting until Horton takes over at the end of the annual meeting Nov. 12.

Pereira became a Southern Baptist two years after committing his life to Christ in 1974 while serving in the Army. He was raised a Roman Catholic.

He graduated from Mars Hill College in 1978 and received his master of divinity degree from Southeastern in 1981. He served on the search committee that recommended Jim Royston as BSC executive director-treasurer.

The funeral is tentatively planned for Nov. 13, so it will not interfere with the BSC meeting. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Brigman’s Funeral Service in Black Mountain. A guest book is available online by visiting “Obituaries” at www.brigmans.com.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JERRY PEREIRA.

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  • Jerry Higgins