By Aaron Weaver
In August 2021, Cooperative Baptists voted to elect Debbie McDaniel, a lay leader from First Baptist Church, Huntsville, Ala., to serve as Moderator-Elect for CBF in 2021-2022. On Thursday, June 30, during the plenary session of the 2022 CBF General Assembly in Dallas, McDaniel—a self described “church volunteer and subtitle teacher who loves what I do and whom I serve”—will assume the role of CBF Moderator, the Fellowship’s highest-ranking officer, succeeding Baylor University law professor Patricia Wilson.
I recently had the opportunity to touch base with McDaniel as she steps into her role as the new CBF Moderator. I am personally excited to work alongside her in the coming year.
Read our conversation below:
Will you share with the readers about your childhood and educational journey? Where did you grow up and attend school?
I was born in Harlingen, Texas, the eldest of two children born to Ross Waters and Ophelia (Phyllis) Escamilla. I attended public schools in Rio Hondo, Texas, graduating in a class of about 100 students. As was common in smaller schools, I did all the things a student could do—at least my parents probably thought I did! I played clarinet in the band, twirled a flag in color guard, played varsity basketball, was in student council, and 4-H and, in my spare time, I raised show steers for livestock shows.
During the summers until I could legally be employed, I worked for my daddy, sometimes hoeing weeds in his fields or driving a tractor pulling a stalk-cutter after the cotton was harvested. As soon as I turned 16, I traded farm work in the summer sun for farm-related work in air-conditioned spaces, a crop-dusting service for the first part of summer, then at the cotton gin during harvest.
After high school, I attended and graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.
As a child and through my college years, I attended the only Baptist church in town, Rio Hondo Baptist Church. I was baptized by the same pastor and in the same baptistery in which my mother, several months pregnant with me, was baptized. I will always remember the painting of the Jordan River on the baptistery wall of our small church.
Who have been some of your most important influences or role models?
Lutie Waters, my paternal grandmother, and my daddy, Ross Waters, were two key role models. I can also unequivocally say it has been the people in the congregations of which I have been a part who have influenced me.
Throughout my childhood, I spent many weekends with my elderly grandmother. I remember waking and she’d be at the kitchen table reading her Bible, her Sunday school book open to the week’s lesson. Sundays would find her in the same seat in our church, always with the same widowed women, who were also in their 80s. She helped where she was able, and was active in her WMU Circle. These actions spoke first as whispers into my life; then, as an adult, I recognized her steadfastness at knowing, following and serving Jesus in the ways she knew.
My father modeled a life of faithfulness and hard work and his support and encouragement for me were steadfast. I could share numerous reflections on his faithfulness, not the least of which was that he was a farmer who saw God’s creation with very different eyes. He labored hard and long in the fields and trusted God to be faithful to provide the harvest.
One example of my father’s support occurred when I was asked to consider serving as a deacon at FBC Arlington. Knowing the small rural church in which I was raised and that he still attended would never (and still do not) elect women deacons, I called to talk with him about this. Without hesitation, he assured me that if my church felt led to call women to serve, then I should follow God’s call on my life. As it turns out, I declined the invitation. It was two moves, three churches and almost 20 years later before I was ordained to serve as deacon in my local church. Though I was not ordained in 1998, I continued to serve God, through the church and my community.
Can you tell us a bit about your ministry journey as a Baptist lay leader?
What a journey it’s been! During my time at FBC Arlington, God began revealing to me my gifts of service. I traveled to Juarez, Mexico, on my first mission trip and within weeks of returning to Texas, I was teaching preschool Sunday school. One thing led to another, and because of the culture and leadership of the church, opportunities to serve and lead through WMU, ES classes, VBS, Sunday school, finance committee work and more mission trips were opened to me.
When we were in Oklahoma, I served in similar ways in the local church and was on the leadership team of a CBF church plant our last two years there. Now, at First Baptist Huntsville, Alabama, I’ve served in several ministry areas, including being appointed to the Vision Team and most recently chairing the Missions Committee.
What brings you the greatest joy in life?
Being outside in our beautiful world gives me great joy. Piddling in the garden, riding my bike, walking around my neighborhood or sitting on the patio, I hear the birds, see the colors and details of plants and appreciate that God not only created it all, but knows every detail about the things that bring me joy.
If you could recommend one book that everyone read, what would it be?
I read I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown a couple of years ago and parts of it still make appearances in my conversations today. It was eye-opening for me, revealing ways we can and must do better in the church and in society.
How did you get connected with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship?
Attending my first General Assembly in Dallas, Texas, over 20 years ago opened the door for me to come and see the difference that is CBF. Right before my first Assembly, we lived in Oklahoma when our last child, a daughter, was born. We had a heightened awareness that women’s roles in this church were limited. I knew I wanted our daughter to grow up in a church where she not only saw women following God’s call on their lives, but also saw the congregation affirming those calls. I would later realize that was as much for me as it was for her.
I became more connected with people in Oklahoma CBF life and was invited to serve on the Oklahoma Coordinating Council; I realized I had found my people. A few years later, we moved to Alabama and plugged into a CBF congregation in Huntsville. After serving on the Alabama Coordinating Council, I was elected to serve on the national CBF Ministries Council. Along this journey I have been encouraged by the leadership in each of these spaces. Serving on the Theological Education Initiative I inspired me as I met and learned from people helping to shape and form our pastors and clergy.
In each CBF space, I have witnessed laity and clergy whose convictions and passions have guided them as they lead and serve in their local churches. Each time I’m with Cooperative Baptists, I come away refreshed, renewed and encouraged. I’m connected and would love to help others be more connected in CBF life wherever they are.
What are your hopes for the upcoming year as you serve as CBF Moderator?
I hope that in whatever ways I am able, I can encourage our CBF leadership and pastors as they lead and equip our congregations, filled with people just like me, so that together, we may be used boldly by God to transform our communities and our world. God is working and preparing the way for us.
As you take on this role, how can Cooperative Baptists pray for you in 2022-23?
Pray that my relationships with the people who call themselves Cooperative Baptists would be strengthened and that I can be an encourager and never take for granted the people who have and will continue to shape CBF.
The 2022 CBF General Assembly is taking place in-person in Dallas and virtually, June 28-30. Read our online guidebook at www.cbf.net/guidebook2022 and register to attend virtually or in-person at www.cbf.net/assembly.