In my first week as president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, I quickly realized that there are stories from the Central community that need to be heard—not heard just by me but by all who love and are committed to the seminary. To share those stories with you, I am “interviewing” students, alums, faculty, staff, board members, and supporters, and each week I am sharing an interview with you on this blog titled THIS IS CENTRAL. I look forward to getting to know this community, and I invite you to join me on the journey.
My interview today is with Helen Moore Montgomery, who needs no introduction to most. Helen is a Baptist saint, whose words of encouragement and friendship reach far and wide across our world, and she is a life-time trustee on the Central board.
PD: Helen, tell us about your Central origin story. How did you come to be connected to Central and in what ways over the years have you served, led, and been part of the Central community?
HMM: Pam, you asked about my journey with Central. The story is long, but I will share beginning with my leadership with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF)’s Equipping the Laity Team. Central President Tom Clifton saw the importance of connection of CBF and the seminary in the early days of the Fellowship, when CBF and the American Baptist Churches, USA were partnering in new ways in Baptist life. President Clifton saw a need to have CBF-affiliated members on Central’s board. He shared this news with me at a CBF General Assembly, and my response was “I HAVE NO LETTERS FOLLOWING MY NAME, my transcripts are all INCOMPLETE, I AM LAITY, ordained over protests.” HE SMILED and SAID, “But you have the gift of connecting people, you are called to love and lead.” So I joined John Tyler, Greg Hunt, Deniese Dillion, and Dub Steincross as voices from CBF on the board.
The early years we struggled. Molly Marshall joined the faculty and brought new life as the Southern story unfolded. The Laity Team from CBF gave our humble budget to refurbish the campus housing for Molly’s residence. Few know that my cousin, J. William Allford, a single man and a banker for whom I served as POA (power of attorney) had become a generous friend to Central. John became a friend to Molly and Connie McNeil. The year that Central was only three weeks away from LOCKING THE DOORS, John died in a terrible accident, and I was called on to oversee the distribution of his estate according to his will. His gift, one of the largest Central had received, kept the doors open. I find joy in sharing his good heart which has never been shared with my Central family.
In 2004, I was called to serve on the presidential search team following Tom Clifton’s resignation, and having known Molly Marshall as a student at OKLAHOMA BAPTIST UNIVERSITY, I knew she was qualified in every way to lead Central. As we interviewed candidates her name surfaced as the one prepared and called, and she became the first woman to serve as president of a Baptist seminary.
In 2009, I took leave from the board to give care to my husband who was terminally ill. During my leave my dear sister, best friend, and Central board member, Gail Ashby, gave a generous gift in recognition of my years of lay minister to students, establishing scholarships for young women desiring seminary education in order to live their call. Some of the recipients of those scholarships were in our recent graduating class. I am humbled to have had a part in Central’s history. I also claim the joy of bringing the names of Janie Fickle and Gail Ashby as potential board members. What contributions they are now both making to Central.
PD: Tell us about your life’s journey and work. Where have you invested your gifts and energy in serving?
HMM: I cannot recall a time that I did not know that I would invest my life with students. As a WWII BRIDE, I grew with my husband, Charles, in our Christ Walk. When we married, he asked me to carry my Moore name with my new Montgomery name. Unheard of in 1946! His request came from his respect of my dad, whom he called his best friend. Little did we know that we were ahead of our day.
When I moved my letter to the First Baptist Church of Shawnee, Oklahoma, where Charles was a member, I proudly signed the membership card Mrs. Charles Moore Montgomery. The pastor, Dr. Lofton Hudson, whispered to me, “What is your name?” I was stunned. “Helen,” I answered. Dr. Hudson said, “HELEN Don’t ever forget you have a name!” LIFE LESSON!
The birth of our perfect daughter, a gift we were told would not happen, changed our plan. Life threatening health issues took a toll and three years from my life. Upon my recovery, I was called by my church as director of student activities. I served for twelve years with students that you would recognize in Baptist life today. Let me mention that the journey has been long with too many stories to tell. There was First Baptist Church, Richardson, Texas for four year; director of campus student activities, First Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, 1975-2006; STUDENT STORM HOME, 1952-2009; Oklahoma Baptist Student Union student recruiter and office manager; Oklahoma Baptist University campus medical staff; and owner, manager of English Interiors Shoppe, 1972-2002, which I established to provide scholarship funding for deserving students. All of the churches I served encouraged my bi-vocational status. I currently serve as deacon co-chair and greeter in my present congregation: Community North in McKinney, Texas, and I continue my ministry of LISTENING with students around the globe.
I must include a word about my husband in my journey for he was and is the wind beneath my wings. From my time of my first staff position as we discussed my concerns, his words were my anchor: “I BELIEVE YOU CAN DO THIS WORK BETTER THAN ANYONE I KNOW.” I knew it wasn’t true but oh how it gave me the confidence I needed to wade into the deep water where the laity was seldom invited. We were a team, and I count my blessings.
PD: What are some of the things you love best about Central?
HMM: My own desire for education left a longing in my heart and that is my joy in serving on board. Central is a forward-thinking seminary, where students are taught and mentored as they prepare for their call. We know their names, and they are a diverse people who are encouraged to question and grow.
PD: What are you hopes and dreams for Central’s future?
HMM: My dreams for Central are the growing of the counseling program. I think that is the future’s great need. I hope that theological education at Central will continue to encourage questions and conversation so that each student comes to understand their call and Central continues to lead in technology that reaches and teaches around the globe. As a WELCOMING & AFFIRMING institution, my hope is that Central and its leaders will lead in justice and mercy.
I join with our Central faculty and staff, the students, donors and friends in serving with our new President, Dr. Pam Durso. Pam brings rich gifts of leadership experience, a bevy of friends and co- workers who support theological education and will become our family. I dream with Pam and with all of you of the fullness of God’s blessing as we prepare students to lead in the changing of the way we BE HIS PRESENCE. My prayer for this uncertain day is Unity in Spirit and Inclusive Love, Serving Together in the work of the Kingdom. IT TAKES A VILLAGE.