“. . . we’ve been able to have chicken or beef two or three times a month.”
The words came on a small note of appreciation from retired pastor Hazen Pangle and his wife Virginia as they applied for a renewal of their Mission:Dignity application. Thanks to a Mission:Dignity benefit, they were able to have basic needs met. The Dallas-based ministry of GuideStone Financial Resources provides for retired Southern Baptist pastors and their widows who find themselves in serious financial need. Even though Hazen died in 2008, Virginia continues to be cared for by Mission:Dignity.
When Hazen Pangle was pastoring, few churches could pay a decent salary, let alone provide for retirement. The Pangles’ story is much like those of almost two thousand pastors and their widows: They went where the Lord called and did not worry about the pay or the cost. Now in retirement, they struggle to make basic choices most take for granted: food or medicine, heat or a doctor’s appointment.
Thanks to the generous gifts of Sunday school classes, individuals, and churches—Mission:Dignity receives no Cooperative Program funding—these pastors and their widows don’t have to make those difficult choices.
Each year on the Southern Baptist calendar, the fourth Sunday of June is designated Mission:Dignity Sunday. This June 22, churches across the Convention have the opportunity to partner with GuideStone and serve as Christ’s hands extended in aid to these retired pastors and their widows.
In 1917, a Nashville pastor, Dr. William Lunsford, had an uneasiness in his spirit. The Great War—World War I—was ending and wounded soldiers were returning from the battlefields of Europe to be cared for by the nation that had sent them. Social and government programs sprung up, and these soldiers were cared for.
But the question arose for Lunsford: What about those soldiers of the Cross?
At a local pastor’s conference in 1917, Lunsford challenged the men there to consider the plight of the weary and worn-out pastor.
“Our churches have created the conscience in government and industry to cause them to provide for their disabled and aged workers,” Lunsford said. “Why don’t we practice what we preach?”
In 1918, the Board of Ministerial Relief and Annuities was born in Dallas. Speaking before messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention in 1918, Lunsford promised this new entity would care for these soldiers of the Cross and their families.
“Give yourself wholeheartedly to the work,” Lunsford said. “We’ll stand back of you. If you fall in the work, we’ll care for you; if you die, we will not allow your family to suffer. If you grow old in the work, we’ll comfort you in your declining years.”
Those words echo in the modern Mission:Dignity ministry.
When GuideStone President O. S. Hawkins arrived in 1997, participants in what was then known as the Adopt An Annuitant program received fifty dollars a month. That number grew to $200 for an individual and $265 for couples. In 2008, the grant doubled for the neediest recipients with at least thirty years of Southern Baptist service, allowing couples to receive $530 per month.
“On each desk at GuideStone sits a card that reminds our five hundred employees of GuideStone’s vision,” Hawkins said. “It reads, ‘GuideStone Financial Resources exists to honor the Lord by being a lifelong partner with our participants in enhancing their financial security.’
“In that statement, we find our motivation: to honor the Lord. We also receive our message: to be a lifelong partner in enhancing our participants’ financial security. Our mandate is to be there for our neediest participants.”
While retirement, insurance, and investment programs have joined GuideStone’s line-up of services over the last ninety-six years, GuideStone does not stray far from its founder’s vision, Hawkins stressed.
“James tells us that pure and undefiled religion is to care for widows and orphans in their distress,” Hawkins said. “We hear a lot about caring for orphans—a worthy and important cause—but not as much about widow care. Mission:Dignity is a tangible way to carry out James’ admonition.”
While relief ministry has been part of GuideStone from its earliest days, in 1981 GuideStone launched the focused ministry that is now Mission:Dignity. Through this outreach, ministers and their widows could receive assistance to help with their basic needs. Today, the average Mission:Dignity recipient has a monthly shortfall of about $200.
“So many of these faithful men and women served churches out at the crossroads of rural America,” Hawkins explained. “Their trust and faith was that God would provide for them and their families in their retirement years. Through the faithful giving of hundreds of churches and individuals, we have the opportunity to be used by God to be a blessing to these ‘soldiers of the Cross.’”
When a church, Sunday school class, or individual gives to Mission:Dignity, it is with the confidence that 100 percent of the gift goes to help a pastor or his widow in need. Not even the stamp on the envelope that delivers a recipient’s check comes out of donor gifts. This is due to an endowment fund that provides for the administrative costs of running the ministry.
In 2013, GuideStone surpassed $100 million distributed to retired Southern Baptist pastors and their widows in need through Mission:Dignity.
Amidst all the numbers, though, it comes down to meeting the monthly needs of pastors and their widows.
The Pangles are just one such example—a couple that was thankful they could have beef or chicken “two or three times a month.” That generosity came through for the Pangles when they needed emergency plumbing repairs and when Virginia needed dental work. Today, widowed, Virginia Pangle knows the care and concern will continue to come thanks to the faithful support of Southern Baptists.
And that generosity comes through each month for some two thousand men and women who were willing to give their lives in service to the Lord.
Hawkins said GuideStone remains committed to the ministry birthed in the heart of one pastor almost a century ago. At the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston in 2013, he spoke from his heart to pastors in attendance, many of whom may have worried that their savings for their declining years wouldn’t be sufficient.
“If you’re here today as a pastor and seated by a sweet lady who has served with you for decades, and God takes you to heaven, we’re going to take care of her until she meets you there,” Hawkins said.
Materials for Mission:Dignity Sunday, set for June 22, are undated so a church may use them any week it wishes. To order free materials, contact www.MissionDignitySBC.org/order, or call 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433) between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. CST.
Timothy E. Head, executive officer of denominational and public relations at GuideStone Financial Resources, is a member of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.