A History of the NC Associational Missionaries Conference - Chapter 1: How did it all start? : Frid
April 22 2005 by Eugene B. Hager

A History of the NC Associational Missionaries Conference - Chapter 1: How did it all start? : Friday, April 22, 2005
Friday, April 22, 2005

A History of the NC Associational Missionaries Conference - Chapter 1: How did it all start?

By Eugene B. Hager

Few things have made a greater contribution to the growth and development of Associational Missions in this state than the North Carolina Associational Missionaries Conference. This author can testify to that from personal experience. [Note: It later became "The North Carolina Superintendents of Missions Conference," and still later "The North Carolina Directors of Missions Conference." This author will use the original title as the preferred designation except in quotations and perhaps a few other instances requiring one of the other titles.]

But when was this conference born? It was born in 1955 when the first officers were nominated and elected. The first meeting planned and led by those newly elected officers was held July 30 - August 3, 1956 at Caswell Assembly. This new conference had actually evolved from something else. That "something else" was an annual planning/training conference sponsored by Baptist State Convention leaders from 1946-1955. This planning/training conference also was extremely helpful to the associational missionaries in those early pioneer years.

First, however, we need to consider some background information in order to better understand what was happening. The Associational Missionaries Conference came out of the rise of the modern associational missionaries movement that began in North Carolina about 1942. A very few associations had a worker earlier than 1942. They seem to have been "field workers" for the Sunday School Board rather than associational missionaries in the modern sense of the term. Such a worker is reported in A History of the Pilot Mountain Association by Mack Goss, page 125. There had been persons designated as "associational missionaries" in the 19th century. Usually, these were pastors who were enlisted by an association to lead in planting new churches in towns and other areas within the association that were without a Baptist church. They did not leave their pastorates, but simply took a little time off now and then to lead in planting a new church. For example: In 1874 in the South Yadkin Association, Elder W. R. Gwaltney (Pastor of Eatons, Jerusalem, and Mocksville Baptist Churches) "...made a special visit to Statesville, preached two sermons, found and conversed with 16 Baptists there, and looked after a church lot." (South Yadkin 1874 Minutes, p. 5.)

The first modern associational missionaries in North Carolina appeared about 1942. The General Board Report to the State Convention in 1945 stated: "About four years ago [i. e. 1941] no association in the State had a missionary. Now there are about 25, and at the present time some half dozen other associations are making plans to secure missionaries if they can be found." (1945 Convention Annual, p. 72.) The first list of associational missionaries appeared in the 1942 Convention Annual (p. 234):

Miss S. Madge Lewis, Haywood Association, Waynesville

Mrs. Fannie Gibson, Macon and West Liberty Associations, Franklin

Miss Vivian Grant, Wilmington Association, Wilmington

Miss Ruth Keller, Caldwell Association, Granite Falls

Rev. G. [T.] S. Lawrence, Pilot Mountain Association, Winston-Salem

This movement grew with strong encouragement from M. A. Huggins (General Secretary and Treasurer of the Baptist State Convention) and the General Board. The Convention Annual for 1942 (p. 80) reported that $1500 had been expended to aid associations in securing workers and that an additional $8,500 was needed. The 1943 Annual (pp. 72-73) noted:

A movement in which the Board has been greatly interested has been that of securing well-trained young men and young women as associational missionaries. We point out that Tom S. Lawrence has been secured by the Pilot Mountain Association for full time work. Only recently G. Woodrow Bullard has gone to the Roanoke Association in a similar capacity. For these two workers the Board has made no appropriation save for some traveling expense for one of them, but in several other associations the Board has been happy to meet about half of the expenses involved in securing well-trained young women. At the present time one may find Ruth Keller in the Caldwell, Willa B. Marks in the Surry, Laura Mae Hilliard in the Yancey and French Broad, Madge S. Lewis in the Haywood, and Mrs. Fannie Gibson in the Macon and West Liberty. The Carolina and Ashe associations have voted to employ missionaries as soon as they can be found. The same may be said also about the Gaston County, the Buncombe, the Wilmington and the South Fork.

The General Board report in the 1944 Annual (pp. 80-81) was even stronger:

Perhaps the most outstanding development in our work has been the employment of a great number of associational missionaries. There are at present about twenty men and women giving full time to this work, and many other associations are calling for them. It has been the policy of the Board to provide about one-half of the salary of many of these mission- aries. In some instances the full salary is being taken care of by the associations themselves, and in one instance the General Board is pay- ing only the traveling expense. We know of no case in which the leaders of an Association attempted to raise funds for this purpose and failed. The main problem now is not one of raising the money, but rather one of securing well-qualified workers. Some of the workers who have been secured are without much experience, but efforts have been made through conferences of various kinds to acquaint them with the opportunities and problems involved in the work. The job needs very much to be done. There are nearly half a million unreached possibilities for our Sunday schools; there are perhaps a quarter of a million prospects for the Training Unions; and on the whole one may say that fully one-third of the members of our churches are almost wholly unenlisted in the total work of the church. These conditions state the task of the associational missionary, working always to aid the pastor in every way possible. Perhaps no more significant movement is taking place among us now than the increased attention given to associational mission work.

Noteworthy in the above quotation are the expectations of pastors, churches, and the State Convention concerning the duties of the associational missionaries.

That same report goes on to mention another significant phase of work getting under way in the associations:

In this connection mention should be made of the cooperation of the Home Mission Board in the City Mission work. At the present time the General Board is cooperating with the Home Mission Board in carrying on work in Durham and the Mount Zion Associ- ation [Note: the Yates Association had not yet been formed from the Mount Zion Association.] under the leadership of F. D. Hemphill, and in Greensboro and the Piedmont Association under the leadership of T. L. Sasser. Plans have just been completed for the employment of H. Fletcher Lambert in the Raleigh Association. Usually these workers wore two hats: City Missionary and Associational Missionary.

The General Board Report for the next year (1945 Annual, p. 72) brings to light the frugal salary level in those days. It also has interesting observations on how the associational missionaries help "the country churches":

Another phase of our program which is proving most gratifying is that of helping associations to secure associational missionaries.... As a rule the Board is undertaking to provide an amount not to exceed $750, un- less the circumstances be most unusual; and this generally will provide about half of the salary. It has been felt that this was the wiser course to pursue, providing thus that the missionary shall be an employee of the association primarily, rather than of the Convention. These missionaries cooperate to the fullest extent with all of the workers of the General Board. We should point out in this connection that most of our town churches are now employing pastors' assistants, or educational directors. The country churches are not able to support a worker to assist the pastor. The associational missionary, therefore, is trying, in a sense, to do for the country church, insofar as it can be done, what the pastor's assistant does for the town church. Of course in many of the associations the great number of rural churches, and their location, make it impossible for the missionary to give as much time to any one church as needed. They can, however, spend a week now and then in a church and help in providing leadership meetings for the churches. This whole movement of the associational missionary is very sig- nificant, and the Board is happy to report that great progress is being made. Oh, for the "good ole days"!

In 1946 Rev. G. W. Bullard was elected to serve on the State Convention Staff as Superintendent of Associational Missions. He was responsible to the General Secretary, Dr. M. A. Huggins. He had served as an associational missionary in the Roanoke Association for three years. Then, he joined the Convention's Sunday School staff (for three years) with special responsibilities as "associational man" under the direction of L. L. Morgan. Huggins and Bullard planned and arranged the first statewide planning/training conference for associational missionaries. It was held at Fruitland, December 13-15, 1946. This was a very important step toward the eventual organization of the Associational Missionaries Conference with its own elected officers and agenda.

Here is the report on that meeting appearing in the January 1, 1947 issue of the Biblical Recorder under "Editorial Brevities":

There were approximately forty associational missionaries in attendance on this special training conference. The program was planned and di- rected by Secretary Huggins and Woodrow Bullard, the director of associational missions. [Note: The Convention Annual uses the title "Superintendent" for Mr. Bullard, who also uses it in his article in January 1950 that we shall look at later.]

One could hardly imagine a more significant meeting for the welfare and progress of our churches. Practically all phases of our work both at home and abroad were studied and discussed. These associational missionaries are giving attention to the development of the local churches and the encour- agement of our people in the support of all our causes both at home and abroad. At this conference these missionaries were being taught that they might be able in turn to teach others better. These convention leaders justified the use of funds for this conference (and those held in succeeding years) by pointing to the vital ministries these missionaries could render to the small, rural, and part-time churches across the state. Note carefully these words from the General Board Report in the Convention 1947 Annual (p. 98):

...we believe the plan now being followed bids fair to help in the development of our churches more than any plan that has before been tried. The Associational Missionary or Field Worker ap- proaches during the year in some vital and significant way nearly all our churches. It is in the main a rural church program, except in name. Most churches now with as many as four hundred mem- bers find it possible to employ an Educational Director to assist the pastor in the vital work of training. Obviously the smaller churches, halftime and quarter time, cannot do this. The Associational Missionary or Field Worker partially answers the need for providing some help for these churches. The Board does not believe it wise to employ people and send them into the associations, paying their full support. Rather it is believed to be a wiser policy for the Board to share in the support, leaving it to the Association itself to employ the worker and pay the remainder of the support. In this way the associ- ations can feel that the workers belong to them. At the moment we are happy to report that there appears to be the finest sort of cooperation. And let it be said once more that the Conven- tion is not forgetting the smaller churches.

The reiteration of the desire to allow the missionaries to belong to the associations rather than to the Convention is noteworthy. That was not the case in some other state conven- tions at the time. The conviction held by many leaders in those days that a major contri- bution of associational missionaries would be in strengthening rural churches across the state is echoed in the following words of Lee Pridgen in the January 7, 1948 Biblical Recorder, p. 13. At the time, Mr. Pridgen was associational missionary in the Tar River Association:

Mr. Huggins has led our State out front in this field.... Here, we be- lieve, is the real solution to our rural church problems. If there be those who criticize the effort or the trial and say it does not work, let those be reminded that in practically every case which has come up for criticism, the trouble has not been with The Idea or the plan, but rather with local conditions or the unwise choice of worker. Never shall a rural State worker with headquarters in Raleigh or anywhere else be able to reach the outermost churches. He can reach them only with letter, surveys, statistics, etc., and these are not needed out there. A person is needed out there to touch these churches and lead them, working with the local pastors and loving them in a great co-operative Kingdom effort and program. Yes the Idea is good, Mr. Huggins, and what we need is not more administrative heads over these workers to complicate their work, but we need from the mountains to the coast our best trained workers ably sup- ported and backed in these rural associations. The possi- bilities are great. May we enter!

For a clearer idea of the "hands-on" activities of these missionaries in the mid to late 1940's consider this excerpt from G. W. Bullard's report in the 1947 Convention Annual, pages 109-110:

An associational mission program includes, (1) general pro- motion work; (2) enlisting and assisting the local churches; and (3) reaching out to the people of unreached areas. With all this involved it is impossible to give a complete summary of the activities of the 42 missionaries. The following facts, compiled from their reports for the first nine months of 1947, will, however, reveal something of the result of their efforts. They assisted with the promotion of 50 simultaneous or central campaigns. Eight hundred and eighty-two churches participated with an average attendance of more then 28,000 people. These campaigns included, Schools of Missions, Sunday School and Training Union Campaigns; Stewardship Emphasis, Evangelistic meetings, Schools for Deacons, etc. The reports list 939 professions of faith and 676 new church members. Eighteen new churches have been organized under the supervision of the mission- aries, and 18 new mission Sunday schools or branch stations started. There are now 30 of these mission stations in operation. Conferences, both individual and group, occupy much of the time of these workers. During the period mentioned above, they reported 4,718 in- dividual and 1,554 group or committee conferences. These workers have responded to calls for assistance with every phase of activity in the individual church....

A variety of titles were used for associational workers in North Carolina during the 1940's and 1950's. Here is a list of the more commonly used titles along with a few examples of associations that had them:

Associational Missionary (the most common one)

Associational Worker (Caldwell, 1947; Mecklenburg, 1949)

Field Worker (Blue Ridge & Green River, 1946; French Broad, 1947; New South River, 1951; Union, 1951) Promotional Secretary (Catawba River, 1966; Mecklenburg, 1950) Executive Secretary (Raleigh, 1950)

In December 1959, at the Associational Missionaries' Workshop in Salisbury, Dr. Douglas M. Branch "...mentioned the matter of having a uniform term for the title of the missionaries. It was reported that a poll of 700 associations revealed that 80% referred to the worker as 'Associational Missionary.'" [Minutes of the Workshop, p. 10.] At the Gulfshore Conference in 1963, Convention leaders noted their difficulty in knowing what title to use in literature and correspondence so that there would be no confusion as to whom they were referring. They requested that those in attendance at Gulfshore agree on a title that could be used convention-wide. There would be no pressure on associations to officially adopt it for their worker, but everyone would know who was meant by the title when used in convention literature. There was quite a bit of debate. Since state convention department leaders were now using the title "Superintendent" (ex.: "State Sunday School Superintendent") some suggested that we agree on "Superintendent of Missions." This title was finally agreed upon, but it was far from unanimous. A large number wanted to stay with the most commonly used title: "Associational Missionary." Over the next few years many associations (but by no means all) officially adopted the title "Superintendent of Missions" for their workers. In the 1970's the title was changed to "Director of Missions." Again, many (but not all) associations voluntarily adopted the new title for their workers. In recent years many have expressed a desire to return to the title: "Associational Missionary."

Another development during the mid-to-late 1940's was the publication of associational newsletters. More and more associational missionaries began doing so. The Biblical Recorder (Nov. 21, 1945, p. 8) mentions The Caldwell Caller edited by Elizabeth Campbell. The Recorder (Jan. 8, 1947, p. 8) refers to The Carolina Baptist edited by E. V. Plemmons, Hendersonville.

Lewis Ludlum served as an associational missionary during most of these pioneering years. He considered the main issue confronting associations and their missionaries in those days to be their search for identity. He prepared a booklet (30 pages) entitled: A Brief Partial History and Interpretation of Associational Missions in North Carolina 1943-1973. He was more interested in interpretation than the bare historical framework (dates, first officers of the Associational Missionaries Conference, etc.). We are indebted to him for preserving the thoughts and observations of himself and his peers. This writer has no doubt that these perceptions were discussed many times by Ludlum, Hubert Mumford (Yates Association), Ed Echerd (Mecklenburg Association), and others. Since his booklet is not generally available (some associations may still have copies in their files for 1973 or 1974), the following quotations are appropriate here: From page 1:

Prior to 1851, when our North Carolina Baptist Convention was formed, Associational Missions had no identity problem. But once the two organizations began to function together, with similar and overlapping objectives, to some extent the association had to struggle to maintain its historical identity as a missionary agency. Until about 1920, however, many associations continued to do con- siderable missionary work within their own borders.

About this time there began a strong trend for state govern- ment to take over many functions of county government. Baptists followed the trend and many associational mission functions be- came a part of a growing State Convention program. Convention agencies, State and Southern, had learned by this time that associ- ations could be an effective promotional agency for their programs. And thus, by the late 1930's, except for cooperative work in Christian education and training in the churches, associations [had] become almost exclusively promotional organizations for other Baptist agencies.

The new associational missionary movement in the 1940's grew out of a desire to enhance the promotional functions of the associations. [Author's note: consider some of the titles used during this period - "Promotional Secretary," "Field Worker."]

In this paper I shall undertake to portray this concept of associational work as being worthy, but quite limited; and, hopefully, characterize the struggle that has gone on (1943-1973) as associations have sought to recover their true missionary identity. From page 3:

To most Baptists it simply did not make sense to employ someone to work in and with churches of the same race, color, and geographical location as themselves. The concept had been quite valid to our forefathers but historical developments in the 30 or 40 years prior to this period had caused us to quite largely lose the concept of local missions sponsored by a Baptist association....

From page 5:

Over a period of years a concept of missions had evolved which required that the senders and the ones to whom the missionary is sent be identified as two separate groups, and geographically separated. But much of the Associational activity was for mutual stimulation and inspiration, de- veloping leadership skills, Christian fellowship, etc. All of which laid foundations for stronger churches but was not missionary according to current concepts. Basically, there must have been a feeling that church people should not spend such a large percent of their energies on themselves, if they were going to call it missions.

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