Monday, June 3, 2013
Pastorgraphs: “Things Don Aderhold Taught Me”
June 3, 2013
Pastorgraphs: “Things Don Aderhold Taught Me”
Dr. J. Don Aderhold died April 4, 2013. He was 87. I can count on one hand the
ministers I hold in as high esteem. He taught me much, mostly by his life. That is as great a compliment as I can give, for it means he was genuinely a man of
God in both word and deed. I’m not alone. The Georgia Baptist Christian Index wrote in 2007 that Don was “one of the most committed Christian gentlemen and winsome personalities anyone would ever want to meet.”
I had the great honor to serve as Don’s associate at Columbia Drive Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia (suburb of Atlanta) from 1977-79. By then, he had already served that remarkable congregation 30 years. And he was just getting going.
The first thing I learned from Don was a lesson in urban ministry: Don’t cut and run! Don enlisted in the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School and served during World War II as an Ensign. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade and was second in command of Submarine Combat Patrol Craft #882. When Columbia Drive Church organized in 1949, Don became her first (and for almost 50 years, her only) pastor. The 1950s were boom years for churches, and Columbia Drive thrived under Don’s leadership, building the still handsome edifice across the street from Columbia Theological Seminary and down the street from Agnes Scott College and Emory University. It remains a most beautiful place. Sunday attendance reached 800. But in the late 1960s and by the time I arrived in 1977, “urban blight and white flight” had begun. Many of the churches closed their doors in fear, sold their property (if they could find buyers) and raced to the new suburbs. But not Don Aderhold and Columbia Drive. His integrity and Navy tenacity would not allow him to cut and run just because his church field was now “red and yellow, black and white”. He once told me, “God sent me here to minister to this community, and he hasn’t released me from that vow.” Yes, attendance and offerings were not what they once were, but the church survived with a wonderful blend of races and cultures. And many of the white members, who moved their homes and families farther away from the urban center, continued to attend and support Columbia Drive on Sundays, knowing what a treasure they had in their pastor.
The second, and closely related lesson was about embracing diversity. Only those who grew up in the Deep South fully understand that in 1977, while social changes were slowly taking place, segregation remained firmly entrenched, especially at 11:00 AM on Sunday. But Don had already led his congregation into welcoming the increasingly diverse neighbors, no small feat in Atlanta at that time. That is a testimony to the trust and esteem his congregation had in him. Not many other pastors would have been able to do that; not then, not there. It was not just a black/white issue. When I arrived, Columbia Drive had become home to over 200 Cambodian (Hmong) refugees from the horrors of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge massacres and widening Viet Nam communism. Don welcomed the opportunity the State Department gave Columbia Drive to nurture and help assimilate these asylees. My first assignment: Teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to the Cambodians. (Go ahead and laugh. It was comical.) So there I was, with my Mississippi accent, not knowing a word of Cambodian, holding an apple up and saying to the class “Ap-ple”. To which they politely replied, “Ooooh, Ap-ple”. I learned to love them, and felt their love in return. Those lessons were put into practice years later welcoming the Haitians in San Diego, and attempting non-verbal communication with Russian Methodists. It is a small taste of Pentecost.
Thirdly, and on a more personal level, Don taught me about being ecumenical. Dr. Aderhold was a scholar. He earned his Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from Columbia Theological Seminary. That is equivalent to a Ph.D. He taught courses for Columbia and the North Georgia extension campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Columbia Drive Church became the campus for NOBTS in Atlanta, an area surprisingly not served by other Baptist schools of theology. Don knew Greek and Hebrew well, and spent six to seven hours a day writing his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew in his later years. His other books included a commentary on Hebrews and the role of the Baptist deacon. When I arrived in 1977, I had begun working on my doctoral degree at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City. Moving from Green Bay to Atlanta, I needed a new mentor. I could not have been more blessed than to have Don as my mentor, who prodded me to complete my work when I got bogged down or discouraged. Don suggested that I look into transferring from Midwestern to Columbia, his alma mater. But a Baptist minister at a Presbyterian Seminary? Itsurely had not hindered Don’s ministry. He held some of the highest positions in the Southern Baptist Convention, serving two terms as President of the Foreign Mission Board. So I transferred to Columbia; one of the best decisions I ever made. I am grateful Don steered me to complete my doctorate at Columbia, and taught me it is okay to cohabitate with Christians in other denominations. Now I am a “Metho-Espico-Bap-Terian”. (Not confused; theologically rich!)
ColumbiaSeminary is one of the oldest (founded in 1828) and most respected seminaries in America. The campus is beautiful. Peter Marshall, who served as Chaplain of the US Senate right after WWII, and whose life and ministry were portrayed in the book and movie, “A Man Called Peter”, is perhaps the most famous alumnus. His wife, Catherine Marshall, was a prolific writer whose devotional books have sold into the millions.
I once told Don, “The ghost of Peter Marshall still walks the halls at Columbia.” That is to say; Marshall’s powerful influence can still be felt long after his death. Right along with Dr. Marshall, Dr. J. Don Aderhold’s influence in Decatur, Atlanta, Georgia and throughout the world will long be felt. For all of us who knew him, we are better people and stronger Christians for having experienced his love and dedication to our Lord.
Don’s wife Gerry, a stalwart Christian in her own right, died a few years ago after battling devastating rheumatoid arthritis for fifty years. I never heard her complain, and in spite of her disfigured fingers and dozens of surgeries, helped Don type many of his sermons and manuscripts. Don and Gerry are survived by their daughter Laura, son David, and four blessed grandchildren.
With deepest respect and grateful thanks, Bill Jenkins
From the Quote Garden:
“[Don Aderhold] has done all this with the highest ethical standards and unquestioned character. Throughout his ministry, he has practiced the injunctions of the New Testament: ‘Do nothing out of self-seeking motives…. If you want to be great, serve others.’”
~ Emmett Henderson, The Christian Index, November 8, 2007 ~
(Photo credits: Google Street View, The Christian Index, Columbia Theological Seminary)
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