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Pete & Jo Ann Butler honored for helping students ‘find their voices’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–With more than 25 years of local church experience before coming to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1983, A.L. “Pete” and Jo Ann Butler’s service provided “the launching pad for worldwide ministry,” observed Midwestern Old Testament professor Al Bean.

Bean and other seminary, church and denominational leaders gathered in the Kansas City, Mo., seminary chapel with more than 170 friends and family to honor the Butlers April 7 upon the retirement of Pete Butler as professor of church music and the retirement a year earlier by his wife, Jo Ann Butler, as associate professor of church music.

Though stepping down from leadership of the music program, Butler will continue to teach as a senior professor of music.

The establishment of the A.L. and Jo Ann Butler Music Scholarship was announced by assistant church music professor Lee Hinson as part of the retirement celebration and presentation of gifts by the seminary, faculty wives auxiliary and music faculty.

Bean explained that the music program of Midwestern was formed “by the hands and hearts of these two choice servants of God” who were enlisted after 23 years of music ministry at First Baptist Church, Ada, Okla., and two and a half years at First Baptist Church, Madill, Okla.

Bean spoke of their contribution of new hymns and “soul-touching music sung in the President’s Home for faculty Christmas parties to a cappella music on the bus to Minneapolis” during a faculty retreat.

Former Seminary President Milton Ferguson echoed that sentiment, thanking the Butlers for “17 years of exemplary leadership combining excellence in musicianship with compassion and competence in ministry.” Ferguson commended their demonstration of “artistry in worship leadership, excellence in choral and organ performance and superb skills in church-staff relationships.

A “reunion choir” of 52 current and former members of Midwestern Singers presented three hymns under the direction of Pete Butler, including two of his compositions, “Hallelujah! What A Savior!” and “O Bethlehem!” on which his daughter Donna collaborated.

Various students from current and former classes thanked the Butlers for “helping students to find their voices” and instilling in them the conviction that every church is important no matter what the size because of the opportunity to touch lives.

The teaching of the Butlers extended to seminary wives as Jo Ann Butler taught groups of students a rapidly acquired technique for playing the piano, as well as sessions on hospitality and appearance. Pete Butler added his perspective in a session on church-staff relationships designed to help wives avoid unnecessary conflict. During his long tenure in Ada, Butler served with six pastors. The Butlers also served part-time at Nall Avenue Baptist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., during their first four years of ministry in Kansas City, and they continue as members there.

Four music students entertained the audience with “Soliloquy in the Key of B” which included two movements relating the teaching styles of each of the Butlers.

Reflections on the dedication of the Butlers to their family were shared by R.G. Huff, minister of music at First Baptist Church, Independence, Mo., and a longtime family friend. Huff said that the Butlers’ daughters, Cindy and Donna, who attended the program, “attributed much of their parents’ success to the fact that they put family first.”

“It was during the morning coffee time that Pete and Jo Ann met face to face with each other and their God and made the decisions of life,” Huff said. He told of the daughters being “home schooled in music education” as preparation for each of them leading children’s choirs in their own churches.

While traveling with an Oklahoma Baptist University choir to the Orient, Huff said the Butlers’ daughter, Cindy, attended First Baptist Church of Hong Kong and came to realize that “her dad’s ministry literally stretched around the globe.” Without knowing the composer’s daughter was present, the congregation sang her father’s rendition of “Redeemed” in Chinese while American guests joined in English.

Both of the Butlers received their undergraduate degrees from Oklahoma Baptist University where they met and sang in the Bison Glee Club. He received his seminary education at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky while she completed a master’s degree at East Central University in Oklahoma and later taught on their music faculty for 15 years.

They are frequent workshop leaders at Glorieta (N.M.), Ridgecrest (N.C.) and Windemere (Mo.) Baptist conference centers. A member of ASCAP, Pete Butler is a composer with four hymn tunes included in the newest Baptist Hymnal and several published anthems and children’s songs. He served as second vice president of the Oklahoma State Baptist Convention, vice president of the SBC Church Music Conference and received an honorary doctorate from Southwest Baptist University.

Jo Ann Butler’s reputation as a children’s choir authority was noted by James Steel of Chorister’s Guild as he referred to her as one of the publisher’s most popular writers. She has written more than 200 articles, units and other curriculum materials, including four books for the Baptist Sunday School Board (now known as LifeWay Christian Resources) and many pieces for Choristers Guild and other periodicals.

“The Butlers’ contributions to music have gone far beyond Baptist life,” Steel said. “You have taught us by your own example to sing for we cannot be silent.”

After Butler joined the faculty at Midwestern to establish a church music program, his wife taught part-time at both Midwestern and William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., before joining the seminary faculty full-time. The master of church music degree was approved in 1991 through the groundwork laid by the Butlers.

William Jewell College’s music department chairman, Don Brown, borrowed a line from Missouri hymn writer Eva Lloyd to thank the Butlers for having “mirrored His redeeming Son” in their time and talents. Other denominational leaders from Missouri and Kansas were present to show appreciation for the Butlers’ ministry.

The Butlers have been honored with the W. Hines Sims Award from the SBC Church Music Conference, the Honorary Music Faculty Award from William Jewell College and the Geneva Casebolt Award from Southwest Baptist University. Recently, they have been selected to receive the Distinguished Music Alumni Award from Oklahoma Baptist University and the Honorary Alumni of the Year Award from Midwestern Seminary.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter