By Ken Sanford
As the eighties began St. John’s was exploring new servant ministries despite troublesome actions by the Southern Baptist Convention.
A bequest allowed the establishment of the Hackney Scholarships which have enabled church youth to attend colleges. A mission team from the church, including the Rev. Bob Lasater, helped construct a building for Heritage Church in West Virginia, and youth traveled to Tennessee, Washington and New Orleans for mission projects. The church purchased the adjoining Staton Mansion and sought an appropriate use for it, approving a recommendation that the facility by used as International House to provide hospitality to the strangers from foreign countries who were arriving in Charlotte. St. John’s assisted some families of Laotian refugees. As an outreach to its neighbors St. John’s raised $25,000 and joined former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity Founder Millard Fuller in building a house in Charlotte. St. John’s youth were the first such group to build a Habitat House. St. John’s received the Governor’s citation for volunteerism as a result of these activities.
Among staff changes, the Rev. Julian Cave left in 1986 to prepare himself for the Episcopal priesthood, and Dr. Dewey Hobbs arrived to serve as an interim pastor. The Rev. Bob Lasater, after 23 years of service, became interim pastoral care minister. The Rev. Bill Johnson, who had been called as associate minister in 1978, left for a position in a Louisville, KY church and Dr. Welton Seal, arrived in 1983 as associate minister but resigned in 1986 to serve a church in Wilkesboro. Nancy Morris replaced Ruth Rogers who had served 26 years as children’s minister. Valerie Hardy, who had served as youth minister who started her ministry in January 1980, left in 1986 to join the Home Mission Board. Her successor Ginger Barfield came in 1988 but had to resign in late 1989 for health reasons. The music program received a boost when Dr. Andre Lash was called as organist-associate minister of music.
The church adopted new statements on baptism and membership that reinforced earlier actions.
The Southern Baptist Convention adopted troubling new policies, including opposing the ordination of women. St. John’s deacons responded that the church supports ordination of women. The church rejected a denominational leader’s declaration that God doesn’t hear the prayers of a Jew. Then moderates were barred from service as missionaries or in leadership positions. Dr. Joseph Patterson was asked to lead the church in a study of denominational affiliation. The church joined the Alliance of Baptists.
Although his stay in the St. John’s pulpit would be relatively brief, Dr. Tom Graves’ arrival as senior minister in 1987 was a major milestone in the history of St. John’s because of his background in Baptist life, growing up with a father on the faculty of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, and his own role on the faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Tommy McDearis who came as Associate Minister in 1988 became a right hand to Dr. Graves in his ministry at St. John’s.