By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer
When three Missouri Baptist Convention employees retired from their posts at the end of last year, they took a wealth of experience and commitment with them. Larry Thomas, Ken Mercer and Helen Schlup each said they were grateful God had given them an opportunity to serve Missouri Baptist churches and their members.
Sabbatical leave allowed Thomas to step away from his job on July 15 last year, although he didn't officially retire until December.
A 20-year MBC staff veteran, Thomas served Missouri Baptist first as a member of the Executive Board, including a stint as chairman of the board's administrative committee.
In 1983 as he neared retirement, then-MBC stewardship director Billy Hargrove began searching for someone to train for the post. "I had a real interest in working for the denomination and shared that with [then executive director] Dr. [Rheuben] South," Thomas said.
Thomas became director-elect for stewardship in March 1984 and later became director of the Cooperative Program and stewardship areas.
In 1986, he became division director for church services, later renamed church development. He said he received "a lot of fulfillment" from supervising the division and working during Don Wideman's tenure as executive director.
Thomas was named ministry support services group leader under the MBC's New Directions organizational structure in 2000. That role added business and financial services to list of responsibilities. He also took on convention planning, calendaring and other duties.
He became associate executive director for support services as part of MBC executive director David Clippard's reorganization plan in January 2003. "I supervised basically the same people for 20 years as far as departments and areas of work," Thomas said.
The Marshall native earned a bachelor of arts degree at William Jewell College and a master of divinity degree at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In the past, he served as pastor and youth director in several Missouri churches, including Zoar Baptist Church, Napton, and at City Union Mission, Bales Baptist Church, Parkway Baptist Church and Sterling Acres Baptist Church, all in Kansas City.
He was pastor for nine years at First Baptist Church, Moberly, before resigning to accept his first convention staff job.
Thomas served as an interim pastor for eight churches and did supply preaching for several others during his years with the MBC. He currently serves as transitional pastor of Concordia Baptist Church in West Central Baptist Association. "I never felt like I got completely away from the desire to pastor," he said.
He and his wife, Janet, have settled in Lee's Summit and are members at First Baptist Church, Raytown. Thomas said he hopes to work through the association and plans to do some consulting, primarily in stewardship.
Thomas pointed to service and people as satisfying aspects of his tenure with the convention. "Being able to work with people who were self-motivating and qualified.... It was a matter of encouraging and helping them. I was privileged to work with the finest people," he said. "If I had any success, I attribute it all to them."
He appreciated being able to serve Missouri Baptists and to have been able to administer the policies the Executive Board had set up. "I got a lot of satisfaction from day-to-day operations," he said.
Although Thomas loved most aspects of his ministry through the Baptist Building, the recent political undercurrent has been his greatest disappointment. "When I first became a denominational worker, the idea was we are here to serve all," he said.
"That changed to we can only serve those who are our kind. There was the constant anxiety of having to monitor...if we were serving churches that were part of the new convention [the Baptist General Convention of Missouri].
"I had a lot of friends who are no longer active [in the MBC] and it was difficult not to be able to relate to them."
A Louisiana native, Mercer began his sojourn as a Baptist Building staffer in the Brotherhood department in 1977.
The Louisiana College graduate completed a master of religious education degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. After serving churches in Louisiana, Georgia and Texas, he was called as minister of music, education and youth at Glendale Baptist Church, Springfield.
In 1975, he became associate director of missions and metro religious education director for Greene County Baptist Association.
Mercer became the convention's director of church administration in 1980, and was instrumental in forming the department. In 1985, convention leaders asked him to draw upon his experience in radio and television to develop a media department.
Later he became associate director of the church growth department, and for five years served as a consultant for the Bible study team. He became a congregational vitality consultant when the MBC was reorganized in January 2000.
Schlup began her MBC career in 1994 when she went to work part time for Word&Way. Then she secured a full-time post in the missions department, and two years later joined the Missouri Baptist Credit Union staff.
The Jamestown native left Baptist Building employ for a while, and returned in 2001 to work in the annuity and insurance department.
"I loved every bit of work," she said. "I cannot believe how rewarding it could be.... Everyone was so good to me, and I had a wonderful experience for the 10 years I was there.
Schlup and her husband, Ed, moved to California in 1988, where they are members of First Baptist Church. She plans to spend some retirement hours as a church volunteer. She also paints and has learned to quilt. (02-04-05)