CBF remembers visionary Baptist leader Diana Garland

By Aaron Weaver and Carrie McGuffin

DECATUR, Ga. — Diana Richmond Garland, founding dean of Baylor University’s School of Social Work and respected Baptist leader, died September 21 at the age of 65.

Diana Garland, photo via Baptist Standard.

Diana Garland, photo via Baptist Standard.

The Baylor School of Social Work has been a longtime and much-valued partner of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Garland was a great friend to many Cooperative Baptists.

“I am missing my friend even now,” said CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter. “Diana’s life cast brightness into ours. It is not as a teacher or leader that she has given us gifts from God’s great hand of blessing and sustaining presence, but it is as a true friend. We give praise for faithful lives that begin and end in ‘Alleluia.’”

Garland, who lived a life rooted in faith, trained generations of Christian social workers to express their personal faith through ministry and championed skills and principles of social work within congregations and faith-based ministries. Through her work she also demonstrated the value of faith-based ministry to the secular social work community.

Garland began her tenure at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, as part of the social work faculty in 1997 alongside her husband, David Garland, who joined the George W. Truett Theological Seminary faculty as a professor of New Testament.

Under Garland’s leadership, Baylor expanded its social work program, and when the university created its School of Social Work in 2005, she became the founding dean. The school met its initial goals under Garland’s leadership in 2013, when it admitted its first Ph.D. cohort. The School of Social Work was officially named in Garland’s honor earlier in 2015, and is now the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.

It was Garland’s commitment to integrating faith and professionalism, deep wisdom and bridge-building in the social work profession that drove the School of Social Work to become one of the top schools in the nation and shaped the lives of so many students and colleagues.

Bo Prosser, CBF’s Coordinator of Strategic Partnerships, said Garland impacted countless lives through her teaching, academic research, writing and vision.

“Diana was the most visionary person I have known,” Prosser said. “I was privileged to work with her in partnering with CBF. She always had vision beyond what most of us could imagine. She gave me and so many others sacred grace. I won’t take it lightly, and I will share it as she taught.”

Paynter reflected on her many years of friendship with Garland in a tribute video at a “Family Dinner” event April 24 in Waco.

“Every friendship changes you,” Paynter said. “We are spiritually formed by the relationships in our lives. Diana’s formation in my life has been to be an echo, a questioner, a person of vision and dreams. She’s helped me codify and clarify visions and dreams that I’ve had. We’ve encouraged each other, and I believe encouragement changes you too. It gives you strength, it gives you resiliency, it gives you an opportunity to be a friend in response. We’ve had a relationship in which her impact on me has been at the deepest level of friendship. She’s changed me by being a deep friend over many seasons of life.”

Garland’s legacy will remain for generations with Baylor University, Cooperative Baptists and countless others whose lives she impacted.

Read more about the life and ministry of Diana Garland at the links below:

Diana Garland, social work educator & bridge builder (Baptist Standard)

Down Home: Diana Garland—force of nature, role model, friend (Marv Knox)

Baylor mourns passing of Diana Garland, founding dean of the School of Social Work

Good Shepherds (Baylor Magazine)


CBF is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry eff­orts, global missions and a broad community of support.The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.

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