By John Pierce
For many of us, advocacy and support for Christian missions were synonymous with the name Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler.
Carolyn, who died yesterday (Jan. 2) at age 84 in Cincinnati, strongly and consistently advocated for the spread of a holistic Gospel rooted in justice, respect and equality. And she did it with such grace.
Her longtime friend and colleague, Catherine Allen of Birmingham, Ala., described Carolyn as “one of the pivotal personalities of missions and denominationalism for more than 56 years, one of the key leaders in creating new ways ‘into all the world,’” and “a true heroine — one who literally has given her all in being true to her calling to missions.”
Widely known and appreciated, Carolyn served faithfully as a respected Christian leader in many settings. Of course, she is best known for her long and effective leadership of Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Her global perspective fueled her engagement with the Baptist World Alliance as well.
Later she assumed important leadership roles within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and several of its partnering organizations including Baptist Women in Ministry (which she helped found), Baptist Center for Ethics and Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
Carolyn often laughingly said that her life course was atypical, retiring at age 59 and getting married. She moved from Birmingham to Cincinnati where her husband Joe was a pastor. There, she said, she gained new appreciation for the many important but often unrecognized contributions of a ministry spouse.
“I found out who planned all of those events I had enjoyed so much,” she once told me.
Her influence and leadership skills put her in high demand for service on the boards of various organizations including the American Bible Society.
Also, Carolyn served on the Board of Directors of Baptists Today that invited me to discuss becoming the publication’s new executive editor 15 years ago. Her presence there made a difference.
Around a conference table at Mercer University’s Atlanta campus, we talked about what the future of the publication might become. My leaning toward not making this career move began to change.
Encouragement from Carolyn and other Baptist heroes of mine present that day was persuasive. I recall saying to myself: “If this thing goes down, these are the Baptists I want to go down with.”
From that moment on Carolyn was supportive in word and deed as the publication’s mission grew and expanded. She often called or sent notes of encouragement along with financial support.
The first time I visited her and Joe in Cincinnati, more than a dozen years ago, she insisted that I bring along family. So my then-8-year-old daughter Meredith (now a senior at the University of Georgia) joined me and spent time with the fine Crumpler clan while I chased stories with Carolyn’s good help.
Carolyn and Joe invited friends to their home one evening to encourage support for Baptists Today. And along with other family members, she took Meredith and me to old Riverfront Stadium (Cinergy Field) to watch baseball on as hot of a night as I can remember.
She was acquainted with the late civil rights activist Fred Shuttlesworth, then a pastor in Cincinnati following his dynamic role in the Birmingham struggle for equal rights, and arranged for an interview as he and I were crossing paths at the airport. Carolyn made sure my visit was both enjoyable and productive.
Her graciousness was revealed again and again.
During a more recent visit (2010), Carolyn reflected on her long commitment to missions and her latest role as a diabetes educator. She was always looking for ways to help others improve their lives.
(This photo was taken at that time. Most people complain about their photos that are published, but Carolyn asked to use this one on her Facebook page.)
Concerning missions, Carolyn was never satisfied with what had been done. She always saw the challenges and opportunities ahead.
She said during that 2010 interview: “We haven’t gone into all the world; we’ve only gone into the easy places.”
To her, the fields were always white unto harvest — calling for more willing workers.
The wonderful mixture of challenge and grace that marked her life will be greatly missed. But the deep and wide influence of Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler continues through the many who were touched by this remarkable woman.
Her life was a gift to us. Thank God.
[A memorial service will held at 11:00 am (with visitation from 9:30-10:30 am) on Saturday, Jan. 24, at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Cincinnati. Visitation at the church will also take place from 4:30-7:30 pm on Friday, Jan. 23.]