Doyle Pennington, Southern Baptists’ first lay Mission Service Corps volunteer, dies Aug. 13

Doyle Pennington SLDR

    Doyle Pennington of Fayetteville, Southern Baptists’ first lay Mission Service Corps volunteer, died August 13. CELESTE PENNINGTON/Special

FAYETTEVILLE — Doyle Pennington of Fayetteville, 75, died early on the morning of Aug. 13 at Vitas Inpatient Hospice in Stockbridge. He had been ill only a few weeks following a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Pennington, along with his wife Celeste, was a longtime veteran of Southern Baptists’ lay renewal movement and was the denomination’s first lay Mission Service Corps (MSC) volunteer. The MSC was founded in 1977 at the urging of President Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist, to coordinate and promote self-funded missionary volunteers.

Pennington also worked with others at the Atlanta-based Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) to help start the organization, and later worked through the Baptist Brotherhood Commission and Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board). President Carter initially proposed the idea that Southern Baptists start a Peace Corps-style organization so laypeople could experience missions first hand.

Pennington was present with President Carter at the White House around the time the program was launched.

If the opportunity to serve Christ presented itself, Pennington jumped in with full commitment. That drive took him to far-flung countries like North Korea with Agape Manna feeding thousands of children each day, to lead mission tours in the American Arctic, and leading the way for Southern Baptist lay renewal in Australia.

Often Pennington served as a facilitator, coming alongside other leaders across the denomination to flesh out their work and dreams. As a servant leader, Pennington readily offered his gifts of administration to help.

Pennington was working on Lay Renewal with leaders in South Africa when he was photographed holding a large lion cub. CELESTE PENNINGTON/Special

He was known for working with laypeople, and in project after project rallied them as volunteers. The Home Mission Board dispatched him twice to supervise properties in American Samoa, including the construction of a mission home built for the Rev. and Mrs. Ray Viliamu.

His Christian adventure began with his involvement as an MSC volunteer. Working out of the office of HMB President Bill Tanner, Pennington used his real estate-business background to shore up properties in state conventions from New England to Alaska and Hawaii.

Before the HMB, his life and direction took a turn with a Lay Renewal event in his church in Florida. At the HMB, he worked with Reid Hardin, who pioneered Lay Renewal, to establish the concept in Southern Baptist churches, releasing lay people from the pews to serve Christ in their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and around the world. He also assisted with church renewal and church reconciliation with Hardin.

Meeting planning took Pennington around the world. He, along with Richard Ross of the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) and Dean Finley of NAMB leading their agencies, coordinated YouthLink 2000 at the launch of the new millennium – an event a decade in the planning for students in seven cities, all linked globally by satellite to celebrate Christ at the turn of the century. The historic event also linked live to Jerusalem where Evangelist Jay Strack spoke to students to welcome the new century.

Pennington also worked with Hardin on Reconciliation ’97 at the Coventry Cathedral in Coventry, England, and was very involved with Baptist World Alliance. He served and traveled in more than 40 countries, islands, and protectorates. He worked with Baptist Men around the world, serving in and later directing the Men’s Department of the Baptist World Alliance, working closely with Korean pastor Billy Kim.

“Doyle was a highly gifted person who with a wide range of interests. He began as a volunteer in Lay Renewal and had many opportunities to touch lay people across the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Jim Williams, who served as president of the Memphis, TN-based Brotherhood Commission and earlier the Nashville, TN-based Baptist Sunday School Board.

“Doyle had an uncanny ability to help people evoke their spiritual gifts and find an opportunity to use those gifts in missions. It takes a very special person to do that.

Pennington, left, the Right Reverend Stephen Verney, wife Sandra, and Celeste Pennington are photographed in Blewbury, England near Oxford. Verney served in several capacities, rebuilding the Coventry Cathedral bombed by the Nazis during WWII and serving as Canonary of St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. Pennington helped organize Reconciliation ’97, a worldwide Christian gathering in Coventry Cathedral with Verney and Reid Hardin to bring together in Christ people suffering from deep divisions of religion, race, and politics. Celeste Pennington managed communications for the project. CELESTE PENNINGTON/Special

“An enormous number of Southern Baptists are now involved in Lay Renewal and missions because of Doyle Pennington. The teacher in me saw his special capacity to help people discover and use those gifts, and he was a master at it,” Williams noted.

Pennington also worked with Billie Hanks of the International Evangelism Association, bringing in volunteers from Georgia and other locations to update its training center at the West Texas Ranch for Christ near Blackwell, TX. He also assisted Hanks for several years to open up disciple-making worldwide.

He worked with Midwestern Baptist Theological President Phil Roberts in Kansas City, MO, to assist in campus renovation, bringing in Baptist volunteers from Mississippi, Texas, Georgia, and other states.

Pennington served on the boards of several organizations including the Board of Trustees for Luther Rice University and its seminary, on the Midwestern Seminary Board of Regents, and with We Care Ministries with Darrel King. He also trained and served with Global Resource Ministries in Disaster Relief.

He worked with Carolyn Bishop with educator volunteers to teach Chinese English teachers in Yantai, China, through the Consortium for Global Education.

He is survived by his wife Celeste Pennington of Fayetteville; their daughters Jennie Moore and husband Travis of Forney, TX, and Amy Hayman and husband Scott of Denham Springs, LA; eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild; his brother Joe and wife Marilyn of Jackson, TN; a niece, a nephew and numerous great nieces and great nephews.

A celebration of his life in Christ will be at 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 2 at his church, New Hope Baptist at 551 New Hope Road in Fayetteville.