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Seminary prof’s journey from Capitol Hill to Seminary Hill

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Few seminary professors have had the privilege of working in the White House, but Lyndel Vaught’s career path has taken him from the White House to Southwestern Seminary. Ironically, Vaught, associate professor of church music, never planned to work at either.

“I always thought I would be an architect,” Vaught said.

An Oklahoma native who happily affirms that he is “truly Sooner-born and Sooner-bred,” Vaught accepted Christ through his mother’s influence when he was nine years old. While attending First Baptist Duncan, Okla., she also led him to become interested in music.

“My mother was very influential in my life,” he said.

Vaught was an only child. Although the family had no indoor plumbing, they did have a radio. Saturday nights were spent gathered around the radio listening to western swing music emanating from Wichita Falls, Texas, and the Texaco Metropolitan Opera broadcast.

Vaught sang his first solo during a church contest at age seven as his mother accompanied him on the piano. He won first prize and a five-pound box of candy.

Vaught’s love of music grew. He majored in music at Oklahoma Baptist University and there met a musically gifted girl named Janet. Their courtship was brief. “We don’t often get asked to give our testimony about dating because we dated a week and decided we were going to get married,” Vaught said. But the couple’s marriage lasted. They now have been married 36 years.

When Vaught graduated from OBU, he received a music scholarship from the University of Oklahoma where he earned a master’s degree. Attending OU was one of Vaught’s childhood dreams, but another dream was serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy. With the nation then embroiled in the Vietnam War, Vaught applied for active duty and was accepted immediately.

“My number came up a lot quicker than I had anticipated,” Vaught said.

During basic training, Vaught’s superior officers noticed that the musically talented officer had an aptitude for foreign language. He was chosen to study the Hanoi dialect of Vietnamese at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., and in 37 weeks graduated with a diploma in languages.

Following graduation from language school, Vaught was assigned to the Navy’s Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I.

Normally such language training and a line officer’s commission would have meant that Vaught would be assigned as the captain of a river patrol boat in Vietnam, but he was instead assigned to the Naval Investigative Service in Alexandria, Va. There he served as a Latin American affairs analyst and later as a specialist in the New Left Movement in the U.S.

Vaught’s assignment involved writing briefing papers. His work soon attracted the attention of a high-ranking Army officer. He was summoned to the Pentagon to meet the officer. While he was there Vaught was informed that the government was assembling a committee comprised of representatives from various intelligence agencies. Vaught was selected to serve as the writer for the new committee.

His duty station was the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Pentagon and his assigned responsibility was the White House, but his office was located in the Internal Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The committee for which Vaught wrote was responsible for formulating position papers based on requests passed from President Richard M. Nixon through his aides. Vaught researched given subjects and used resources available to White House staff to write papers that he submitted to the heads of the intelligence agencies.

The agency heads would then pick them apart. “So it’d be like your doctoral committee sitting there … taking your dissertation apart,” Vaught said.

Once the report was revised and passed on to the president’s advisors the administration developed its policy. Vaught wrote 36 papers during his two-year sojourn in the Nixon White House, but he never met the president.

“I never met Nixon. Nobody ever met Nixon much,” Vaught said. But he did not go away from the White House empty-handed. Today a frame in his seminary office contains a set of silver presidential cufflinks along with photos of Air Force One and the White House.

Vaught recalled that when the cufflinks were being framed, the framer asked, “Don’t you want those polished up before we put them in there?” “No,” he answered. “Turn them over and look at the name on the back.” As the framer looked at the name Richard Nixon, Vaught said, “No, I think it’s appropriate to leave them somewhat tarnished.”

While Vaught was in the military he continued to pursue music, serving as the choir director at Capitol Hill Metropolitan Baptist Church. When his tour of duty with the Navy ended, Vaught enrolled at the University of Maryland to pursue his doctorate in music. His instructors encouraged him to pursue a singing career alongside his service in the church, and soon professional singing opportunities were before him. He was not, however, satisfied.

“I knew that was not what I wanted to do,” Vaught said. “Thinking I could sing professionally and also do God’s work on the side … was not right.”

“The Lord called me when I was 16 years of age to the ministry of music at Falls Creek Baptist Assembly,” he said. “I was singing in Chicago, and I got down on my knees and I said, ‘Lord, I’ve got what I want but I don’t want what I’ve got. You called me a long time ago to be a minister of music, and that’s what I’m supposed to be.”

Soon God opened the door for Vaught and his family to move into the music ministry. The family spent their last day in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 1976, and then traveled to west Texas. Vaught became minister of music at First Baptist San Angelo, where he enjoyed a successful senior-adult choir ministry. In fact, senior-adult choir ministry became his passion.

“My philosophy,” Vaught said, “is that the only difference between senior adult choir and the Sunday morning choir is the color of their robes, not in the quality of the music and not in how well they sing. They are to sing just like anybody else and give their best offering.”

Seventeen years later, God gave Vaught a new assignment: orders to Southwestern Seminary to train future music ministers.

“I was always resistant to coming to Southwestern Seminary,” Vaught said. He thought that his secular music education and lack of seminary education wouldn’t be a proper fit. He also assumed that the seminary would be “out of touch” with local-church worship styles.

A church music workshop in 1980 changed his mind. Bruce Leafblad, then only a guest speaker at the conference, spoke about the biblical model of worship in Isaiah 6. Vaught was stunned, as evidenced by his Feb. 1, 1980, journal entry. He wrote, “The call I felt at the seminary today is unlike anything I have ever known before.”

“It so moved me about what worship was supposed to be that I knew that this seminary could offer things that no place else could,” Vaught recently said. He immediately called his church secretary to announce that his approach to worship would be different from that Sunday forward. More importantly, he prayed as he drove home, “Lord, if ever possible, I would like to teach at Southwestern Seminary.”

In 1993 his prayer was answered and he was elected to the faculty.

In addition to his responsibilities in the classroom, Vaught currently serves locally as interim worship leader at Ashcreek Baptist, and his ministry to senior citizens has taken on a very personal tone. About every 10 days Vaught travels to and from Lindsey, Okla., a 400-mile round-trip, to visit and care for the mother who taught him to love music. She is now 91 years old and until recently lived in Vaught’s childhood home.

Vaught’s mother recently fell and was hospitalized. She is now confined to an assisted living facility.

The path Vaught traveled to Seminary Hill was at times unexpected and exciting and at other times ordinary. Few have experienced daily work in the White House, and although Vaught admits that his experiences there shaped him, they pale in comparison to the fulfillment brought by teaching and working with senior adults. In fact, if given another lifetime to work, Vaught said, “I’d do what I’m doing today.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ENSIGN VAUGHT and VAUGHT.

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  • Joe Goodson