By Paul Baxley
This weekend, Babs Baugh will be buried in a private funeral in Houston, Texas. In the days since her death, Baptists have joined people from all over the world in offering gratitude for her life and prayers for her family in this time of grief and change. The coronavirus pandemic makes it impossible for us to be physically present with the Baugh family in these days. But we can still offer gratitude to God and prayers of intercession for those who knew Babs best and love her most.
I do not know Babs nearly as well as many who are writing and who will speak at her service on Saturday. To be sure, I have known of her and benefitted richly from her vision, leadership and generosity. But over my first year in ministry at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, I had several opportunities to be with Babs and John, to listen to her stories, to hear her deep convictions, to get more than a glimpse into her heart and to see with absolute clarity the depth of her devotion to Christ and her commitment to see that God’s love was shared with all, in word and in deed. She knew that faithfulness to Christ’s mission required transformative actions, and not just beautiful words.
Those visits made a powerful impression on me. My life is richer, and my faith is stronger because I had those conversations. I came to realize quickly that she was a person of deep faith, strong convictions, wonderful humor and genuine compassion for people. She was clear about what it means to be a Baptist. More importantly, she had a strong focus on what it means to be a follower of Jesus and use gifts and resources to support Christ’s mission of love.
Babs gave voice to a deep awareness of the power of collaboration and cooperation. She gave powerful leadership and also invested resources to gather different ministries together and encourage their leaders to find ways to work together more ambitiously for the sake of a mission in the world that cannot be pursued in isolation. Long before those of us in leadership of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship started talking about a “generous definition” of our Fellowship, Babs had already discovered that our greatest capacity was in convening partners, focusing ministry and creating space for more and more of us to cooperate authentically. She seemed instinctively to know that isolation is deadly but that true collaboration opens possibilities for greater faithfulness. I can’t help but wonder if her insight into the power of convening didn’t rise from her love for music and her joy in seeing distinct voices blend together in beautiful harmony.
I believe Babs’ life, particularly when connected to the story of her family, is powerful evidence of the capacity of committed lay Christians to change congregations and communities. On our best days, we Baptists have celebrated the ministry of the laity and the priesthood of all believers, but in other times we have been tempted to focus more exclusively on the leadership of clergy. The story of Babs and her family is vivid testimony of the difference committed lay Christians can make by offering themselves to the strengthening of the church and our shared mission in the world. Babs learned faith from her parents, and the faith she received has been passed on to her daughters and their families.
This week, I join with those who knew Babs in offering praise to God for her life, prayers for her family and closest friends, and I hold fast to the promise of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.”
Thanks be to God.