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Oklahoma church receives top Sunday school honor

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An Oklahoma church credited with being a “lighthouse to the community” was honored Dec. 6 for its contributions to Sunday school ministry by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

First Baptist Church, Inola, Okla., received the Washburn-Piland-Taylor Directors Award in the local church category. “The church and its pastor, Mike Butler, have been supportive of everything we do at LifeWay,” said Bill Taylor, director of LifeWay’s Sunday school group.

“The town of Inola has about 1,200 or 1,500 people and that church has run 631 in Sunday school,” Taylor said. “They are a strong church, a FAITH church, a church called by God to be a lighthouse to the community.”

Given annually in four categories — Southern Baptist Convention, state, association and local church work — the awards are named after the last three men who have provided leadership for Sunday school ministry across the Southern Baptist Convention — A.V. Washburn, Harry Piland and Taylor. This year’s awards were presented during the annual gathering of state Sunday school directors and associates in Nashville, Tenn. Piland, who is recovering from recent brain surgery, was present to hand out the awards.

Roy Edgemon, director of LifeWay’s discipleship and family group, received the Washburn-Piland-Taylor Directors Award in the SBC category.

Edgemon, who has announced his plans to retire April 1, 2000, has led SBC discipleship ministry since 1978.

Taylor called Edgemon “Mr. Spiritual Transformation. Much of what is considered cutting edge in discipleship is due to Roy Edgemon’s behind-the-scenes work. Spiritual transformation is on the lips of all Christian leaders, and Roy has led the way.”

Winners in other categories were:

— Association: Barbara J. Finch, minister of childhood education at First Baptist Church, Bothell, Wash. Jim Harvey, church growth strategist for the Northwest Baptist Convention, recounted that Finch is greatly admired in the Northwest because of her “example of a sensitive, caring Christian educator who is making a difference. She is called a mentor to volunteers as well as church staffs.”

— State: Andrew Smith, director of the Sunday school department for the Alabama Baptist State Convention. Smith has led his state in Vacation Bible School work. Taylor said that in 1999 Smith led in training 678 associates, who in turn trained 8,873 people, who then led 130 VBS clinics. One in seven churches in Alabama is a FAITH church, Taylor said, thanks in part to Smith’s leadership.

Two LifeWay employees were recognized for outstanding performance in editorial and consultant categories.

Judith A. Wooldridge, senior product development specialist, received the Hight C. Moore Award for editorial excellence. A 22-year employee of LifeWay, Wooldridge was described by Louis Hanks, associate director of the Sunday school group, as having “raised the bar” for Sunday school work.

The award is named after Moore, who served as supervisor of the editorial department at the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay) from 1907-43.

Chuck Gartman, manager of the youth ministries services section, received the Elsie Rives Award for outstanding field service work during the year. Gartman, described by Hanks as “having a real love for youth,” has been with LifeWay since 1991.

The award is named after the late Rives, children’s consultant and manager of the children’s program section at the board from 1963-87.

A new award was established to honor exceptional managers. The James L. Sullivan Management Award was presented to Anne Tonks, manager of the children’s Sunday school ministry support section at LifeWay, and Tommy Sanders, director of the LifeWay’s preschool Sunday school ministry department.

Tonks was praised by Taylor who said, “Through all the years and all the jobs, she has never wavered in helping people understand the message of God’s Word.” Tonks is a 22-year employee of LifeWay.

Sanders, who has been at LifeWay for three years, was described by Taylor as someone who “represents hope, youth and vitality. He has a great love for boys and girls and a tremendous understanding of their parents.”

The new award is named after James L. Sullivan, president of the Sunday School Board, now LifeWay, from 1953-75. Sullivan was present to give both recipients their awards.

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  • Polly House