The Baptist Home knows probably better than any Christian ministry that you only get to celebrate centennials once. The 100-year-old ministry to aged Baptists in Missouri and — more recently — beyond the “Show-Me” state’s borders has seen its share of centenarians.
At TBH locations in Arcadia Valley, Chillicothe and Ozark, every birthday is celebrated, to be sure. But some residents do indeed reach the 100-year milestone that most of us assume we will never attain this side of heaven.
It is appropriate that The Baptist Home and Baptists across our state voice a well-deserved “Happy Centennial” to the ministry that has not only served advanced-aged Baptists since 1913 but has persevered for the privilege of serving all of those years.
Over the years, economic and other threats have jeopardized the very existence of both modest and expansive facilities and the likelihood of perpetuating the good the ministry has done and continues to do.
The dream of such a ministry is older than 100 years, of course. It took root in the heart of a pastor, Milford Riggs, and his wife, Mary. While traveling across Missouri on behalf of orphans, Riggs became burdened with the plight of the elderly, many without family and the means to care for themselves.
Near the end of 1912, First Baptist Church of Ironton called Riggs as pastor. In January, a board was named and Riggs launched an appeal to fund a ministry to needy seniors. Within months, Emerson Mansion was leased to house the home’s first residents. The Riggs family moved in, and the first “inmate,” Rev. J.P. Griffin, became a resident. The State of Missouri issued a charter for the Missouri Home for Aged Baptists on June 16, 1913.
Dr. Riggs launched The Baptist Home newsletter and made the first appeal for food jars, which became a staple and a lifeline for the ministry for 40 years.
It all began in a pastoral rural setting in what was a far simpler time than today, just prior to World War I and preceding the devastating Great Depression. Apart from the will of God and the dedication of the Riggs and others, there could be no explanation for the home’s survival and its ultimate success. But survive it did.
The April 25 issue of Word&Way recounts in brief detail some of the history, many of the accomplishments and the dreams that continue to grow to meet 21st century needs in Missouri and in foreign lands. The vision and burden that took root 100 years ago is catching the interest of an expanded group of Baptist visionaries that the Riggs would not have imagined.
It is important that The Baptist Home continue as an ever-growing ministry. For one thing, it is meets a ministry need that will continue to grow. More of us will reach advanced years in the future, and our lifespans are already increasing. More of us will reach and surpass the centennials of our births.
One sign of how much cultures respect and value life is seen in how they regard the elderly of their populations. The Baptist Home ethic has been that we dare not throw the older and/or the infirm on the proverbial trash heap of humanity or ignore their particular needs. Instead, we choose to value them and their contributions past, present and future. We live with the belief that God isn’t finished with any of us yet.
If each of us is important to God, how can we not be important to each other?
The Baptist Home in the past 100 years has experienced crisis after crisis. Sometimes it has crawled forward; occasionally it has seemed to race ahead. The reality is that under wise supervision and leadership, it has continued steadily onward, always seeking to honor God and his creation of humankind. Baptists support this work because God is in it and is honored by what it accomplishes.
Today, the ministry is not simply a near-final resting place but a ministry that helps many of us move toward retirement years with a plan and a purpose in our Christian lives. It has advanced to become a multi-faceted endeavor that as such has become more and more valuable to individuals, the church and the society.
Early visionaries set it in motion, and — for all the good it has accomplished — it has yet to reach its full stride. None of us knows how long the Lord will tarry before he comes again nor if The Baptist Home will celebrate a bicentennial 100 years from now. Today, we can give thanks for it and do our best to sustain and grow it. It is a gift from God.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.