Their Leadership Continues

Their Leadership Continues

by Kevin Butler

Four past Presidents were together at the SDB Center for joint General Council and Coordinating Leadership Team meetings in December. They had answered most of these questions ahead of time and were gracious enough to pose for photos as they reminisced together.

 Sabbath Recorder: Let’s talk themes. Each President is expected to come up with a unique theme for their Conference year. Althea Rood, your Conference in 1991 was based on the theme, “Called… To the Obedience that Comes through Faith.” What inspired you to choose your theme?

Althea: When I talked with a friend about what theme I might use, she thought that the theme of “obedience” characterized my life. It rang a bell with me when she shared that and I knew that I had “heard from God.”

SR: Gordon Lawton, your term was 2001-2002, and your theme was “What Do These Stones Mean?” Where did you get that one?

Gordon: From Joshua 4:6. We were celebrating 200 years of being an SDB Conference so I wanted a theme that would speak to history. I thought about what was important to us today and how we could speak to those in the next 200 years. We could have spoken of people or places, but I chose to focus on our basic beliefs as the stones we use to build.

SR: Conference in 2004. Dale Thorngate, you presided with the theme “Seeking God with All Your Heart.” What inspired that?

Dale: In Jeremiah 29, it says “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.”

I had been concerned about what Jesus had in mind when he talked about God’s Kingdom. After an extensive Bible study I decided that Jesus wasn’t talking about a future kingdom, but one that he came to bring to all who would follow him, including those of us here today. After Jesus challenged his disciples not to worry about everyday things, he said: “Seek first God’s kingdom, and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

 SR: And our most recent Conference saw one of our youngest-ever Presidents, John Pethtel. What inspired you to choose your theme, “Are You Ready?”

John: After a lot of prayer, God led me to see that He is at work among Seventh Day Baptists. He wants us to prepare ourselves for His coming Kingdom by being faithful servants. We need to ask ourselves, “Are You Ready?”

SR: So, John, with the freshest of memories, what were your biggest challenges during your Presidential term?

John: My bi-vocational employment was my biggest challenge. I lost my “outside the church” job near the beginning of my term. However, God still continues to provide for my family.

Althea: Mine was somewhat about work, too. My children were fairly young—11 and 13. I only did substitute teaching that year so I often traveled to and from churches on Fridays and Mondays.

Dale: Probably the biggest challenge for me came when the decision was made—somewhat late in the game—to hold the Conference sessions at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon. That meant that the Host Committee would be located there in my home state. In many ways that made my plans easier. However, it also meant that I would be more involved in the local planning as well.

SR: How about challenges for you, Gordon?

Gordon: As a pastor I had to balance my presidential and pastoral responsibilities. I was limited on travel since I had responsibilities on Sabbath at home. The church did release me for up to six Sabbaths for trips as Conference President.

As with others, there were last minute-changes to the program and leaders as people discovered they could not get there. Leading business was a challenge since I had to give all sides an opportunity to speak, as well as limit the floor to church delegates for at least one topic.

SR: Your biggest joys?

Gordon: It was a joy to serve, and be helped by those who were willing to lead as asked. It was a joy to see SDBs speak openly, disagree and still worship together.

Althea: Visiting our churches and seeing what God was doing in people’s lives.

John: My biggest joy was seeing the Holy Spirit move among our people as I visited churches, during our meetings of General Council, during our week of General Conference, and even now through the theme for the year. I believe that God will continue to be faithful in revitalizing our churches and helping us to plant new churches.

SR: Any joys for you, Dale?

Dale: Where do I begin? Besides working with the best group of people in the world to make it an exciting and joyful Conference year, I was truly blessed with wonderful music! We had Barbara Saunders at the organ, with Denise Green and Becky Rogers working with the Conference choir.

My two guest presenters added a broader dimension to the meetings: Dr. William Brackney, a Baptist historian and author, and Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. They both helped SDBs see themselves in relation to the larger community of Baptists.

SR: When we think of Conference, we often see it as a family event. How much was your family involved in your extra presidential duties?

Gordon: Linda got to travel with me a little. Two of three children were in college so we only had one left in high school. They all were helping lead in music and other ways at church.

Althea: My husband, Dale, was wonderful in “picking up the slack” at home—caring for our kids, supporting me in my extra responsibilities, and basically, making it possible for me to travel to churches and meetings.

Dale: Since my children were all grown up, the one most involved was my talented wife Janet. She has been my partner in ministry for over 41 years. Her role as confidant, advisor, administrative assistant and counselor was invaluable. She also wrote and arranged the Conference theme song: When You Seek Me with All Your Heart. Janet is the best possible partner that God could have provided for me.

John: I tried to limit my trips to leaving on a Friday night and returning on a Sunday morning to minimize my time away from my family. Tabatha, Xavier, and Addison all missed me while I was away but were happy to “share” me with others. They prayed for me while I was traveling, and we prayed all year for the Conference week and the people who would attend.

SR: How did your perspective of the Conference or General Council change because of your involvement?

John: I was pleased to serve God and Seventh Day Baptists in this capacity. It’s exciting to see God moving in our churches and members. The evidences of His grace are all over our Conference.

Althea: I became aware of how many people worked so much behind the scenes to carry out our Conference ministries. Their dedication, willingness to “go the extra mile,” and desire to please God and serve SDBs was eye-opening and inspiring.

Gordon: I was reminded that we are all human and that most SDBs do honestly seek and desire to serve the Lord.

 SR: I always try to get a photo of this on Sabbath night at Conference, but how did you feel as you passed the gavel to the President-Elect?

Almost in unison: Relieved!!

Althea: Well, relieved and grateful. Relieved, that the year was over. And grateful to the many people who made our Conference sessions meaningful that year.

Dale: Relieved, but also challenged to continue to be involved in Seventh Day Baptist ministry in whatever way God would provide.

Gordon: It was a good experience and I was glad that it was only for a year.

John: I felt relieved that the busyness of the Conference week was over. I was happy to serve our Conference, and hopeful for the theme and work that God will continue through our new President.

SR: And that leads to the last question: What hopes or concerns do you have for the future of Seventh Day Baptists?

Gordon: I hope that we continue to remember that we are congregations held together by our covenant with each other. It is sometimes hard to “watch over each other for good.” But we are faith communities that are families by relationship and not necessarily genetics. My hope is that we will be seeking and welcoming new siblings into God’s family and into our local families as well.

Althea: I hope that people will continue to be obedient to the call on their lives and that they will act on what God shows them. Our current Conference leadership is very unified in their vision for SDBs. Their willingness to work together and help each other gives me a lot of hope for what God has in store for us. I sense that the Lord is pleased with our unity.

Dale: My hope is that Seventh Day Baptists will remain true to their call from God to “seek His Kingdom” wherever they are and in whatever ministry He choses to use them. People need the Sabbath more than at any other time. We are challenged by how quickly we can communicate around the world. Time spent with God can best prepare us to do His will and share His love with others.

Althea: I do have a concern. Some have chosen to leave the Sabbath and have wandered from their walk with Him. I pray that we don’t just do things the “same old way” or “our way,” but that we join God in His work! Obedience is still very important to me!

John: We should see the urgency of the Gospel in the revitalization of our churches and the planting of new Gospel-centered churches. I am hopeful that God continues to show His grace through SDBs by bringing to us—and bringing us to—people who need to hear about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Althea Rood currently serves as President of the SDB Women’s Board. Gordon Lawton is Director of Pastoral Services for the Center on Ministry. Pastors Dale Thorngate and John Pethtel are members of the General Council.

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