The COVID-19 crisis has taken a toll on the families of so many Alabama Baptists and others in our state – too many to name.
This year has been most challenging for all of us in some way or another.
When the number of cases of COVID-19 began to mount, my pastoral instincts were screaming at me to try to do something.
To the best of my knowledge, I tried to contact every pastor and many staff members who were affected by this pandemic.
Some had mild symptoms and endured the situation well. Others had moderate symptoms which caused some degree of discomfort and no small amount of anxiety. There were still others who had major symptoms.
Many of the latter suffered through the situation at home, but some had to be hospitalized. Sadly, there were those who passed from among us during this pandemic.
In recent days, two of our former state convention presidents were among those who entered glory. I knew and admired both pastors who served Alabama Baptists as presidents during their ministries.
Dewey Corder was a true gentleman. He was one of the most cheerful men I have known. Every time I talked to him, he was upbeat as he talked about how the Lord was blessing him and his ministry.
A couple of weeks ago, I called Dewey when I learned he had COVID-19. I could tell he was not feeling well.
During our conversation, I could hear background noise, and I asked him about it. “I am on my way to the hospital,” he said. “I think I have had a relapse.”
I quickly ended the call to let him rest.
After our conversation, I reflected upon how much Dewey had meant to me as a friend. I came to know him while he was pastor at Eastern Hills Baptist Church in Montgomery where Dewey led the church to start a “mission church” as we called them back in that day.
It was 1985, and Montgomery was growing eastward. The new church became Taylor Road Baptist Church, and now it is one of our strongest churches in the Greater Montgomery area.
Dewey was a natural pastor. He loved his people, and they loved him. This was apparent in every church he served.
Years ago, when I was serving at FBC Tuscaloosa, someone asked me about who might be a good pastor for FBC Trussville. I responded, “Have you thought about Dewey Corder?”
I was overjoyed when Trussville First called him as their pastor.
When I finished my tenure as president of the state convention, Dewey – who had served as first vice president – was elected to serve as president.
In this role, Dewey served like a pastor to the state convention. During difficult times, his heartwarming and common-sense leadership was evident as he helped the convention grapple with critical issues.
When I think of Dewey Corder, I remember the words of endearment from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:3-4: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.”
In retirement, Dewey continued to serve as pastor. He never stopped being a pastor. He never ceased loving his people. He remained faithful to the very end.
I first met Harper Shannon at Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center during Preaching Week. Back then, those events were packed out, attracting pastors and laypeople from across the Southeast and beyond.
Harper was the keynote preacher, meaning he preached messages in the evening and had training conferences in the daytime.
When he preached and taught, I sat on the edge of my seat. I hung on his every word. I was enthralled by his preaching and teaching abilities.
A few years later, I became the pastor of West End Baptist Church in Birmingham. Harper’s parents had been members there, and he considered it his home church.
His mother passed away just after I became pastor, and I eventually became well acquainted with his father. I enjoyed the fellowship, because he was a down-to-earth gentleman who always loved his pastor.
When Mr. Shannon passed away, I conducted his funeral. I remember it well. I did my best to offer a fitting tribute to a Christian gentleman, a loving husband and a proud father. I remember using the text Matthew 11:28-30 at the funeral.
In the years that followed, I worked closely with Harper. He was a guest preacher in my churches. We served together on committees.
I was on the Personnel Committee when Harper was called to be the evangelism director at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions where he worked with Troy Morrison, my predecessor.
Harper was a friend to Alabama Baptists. Although he had served larger churches in our state, when he became the evangelism director he related so effectively with smaller to mid-size churches which are numerous in the life of our state convention.
For me, Harper was a personal confidant. When I was called to be a state missionary in the role of the executive director at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, he became one of my most encouraging voices.
He knew something of the challenges of the role, and he never ceased to be a friend and adviser.
When I think of Harper Shannon, I remember the words of 2 Corinthians 4:5 in which Paul emphatically declares, “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” I will never read that verse again without thinking of my friend, Harper Shannon.