DULUTH — Yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting held at the Georgia Baptist Missions and Ministry Center featured welcomes to incoming Committee members as well as a general “thank you” to those rotating off. It also included a final recognition of the contributions of J. Robert White and J. Gerald Harris in their roles as Georgia Baptist executive director and editor of The Christian Index, respectively, prior to their retirement from those positions at the end of the year.
On the prospect of being the next to occupy White’s role, incoming Executive Director Thomas Hammond pointed to what his predecessor leaves.
“It’s humbling and overwhelming when you think of the [spiritual] needs of this state,” said Hammond on leading Georgia Baptists. “Following a man with the integrity and leadership of Dr. White makes my job difficult in the sense that people are going to compare me to [him]. But it makes my job easier in the fact that I’m building on a foundation that’s been laid for 26 years.”
That work done over two-and-a-half decades is well worth the multiple standing ovations White has received since last year when Georgia Baptists recognized his 25-year anniversary and after his announcement of retirement in March, reflected Hammond. In a time when many retirement announcements are connected with scandal, White’s can be connected with something far different.
“We see a man today who, after 26 years of leading us in pure light, is leaving with us cheering. Folks, that is a blessing,” he emphasized.
And although White will retire as executive director, he will begin next month in his new position as president and CEO of the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation, whose offices are located in the Missions and Ministry Center. That fact wasn’t lost on Hammond.
“I’m grateful that I can just push that elevator button and go down to the second floor if I need to talk to you about anything,” Hammond said to White as others laughed.
Harris gives final Index report
“Probably the most incredible decision I made regarding leadership was the day I picked up the phone and called Gerald Harris and asked if he’d consider becoming the editor of The Christian Index,” White had recalled earlier in the meeting. “What an amazing editor he has been.”
Remembering their numerous conversations over the years on issues facing Georgia Baptists and how close their families have become, White looked to Harris and said, “You and Martha Jean are very dear to Janice and me and to Georgia Baptists. I just want to thank you for all you’ve done. God bless you, brother.”
Standing behind the podium, Harris recollected White contacting him in January 2003 on becoming Index editor.
“I prayed and … God began to warm my heart to it,” said Harris. Later that year the Index’s board of directors offered the position.
“The last 15-and-a-half years of my life have been perhaps the most fulfilling of my ministry. The privilege of serving as editor of The Christian Index has been a great blessing. Many of you have been kind enough to invite me to preach in your churches and getting to know you has greatly enriched my life. Having the opportunity to pastor and mentor young pastors has been an immeasurable joy.”
Harris went on to call being a part of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board “an experience of monumental significance for me” and serving under White’s leadership as “an unspeakable pleasure.”
In June, Harris was honored by fellow state Baptist paper editors for his work.
Although no longer senior editor of The Index at the end of the year, Harris will continue his busy preaching schedule. He will also begin contributing regularly to his personal website Love Lifted Me Higher as well as be a freelance commentary writer for The Index.
Other meeting business
Brad Boynton, recently-elected first vice president of the Georgia Baptist Convention and pastor of Spring Place Baptist Church in Chatsworth, brought the devotion and challenged fellow ministers to preach the gospel unapologetically.
“God is still drawing people [to Him]. God is still saving people. I believe God is looking for people to use [to tell others about Christ],” he stated.
In addition to GBC President Robby Foster’s address, White presented his final Executive Director’s report, and Public Affairs director Mike Griffin gave an update on what to expect in the upcoming legislative session. At the close of the meeting, both Executive Committee chairman Andy Childs, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Toccoa, and Executive Committee vice-chairman Tommy Fountain, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Monroe, were re-elected by acclimation for their second terms when no other candidates were nominated.