By Bob Allen
Clarissa Strickland, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s longest-serving staff member, retired June 30 after 23 years of service.
Strickland — legendary in CBF life both as a speaker at retirement banquets for her “Dare She Scrolls” tributes delivered in deadpan King James English and as the point person for the Fellowship’s reference and referral program connecting search committees and ministerial candidates in CBF churches — was hired in 1991, when the moderate Baptist movement was officially organized.
Today the Fellowship boasts new offices in Decatur, Ga., more than 125 global missions personnel and 733 endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors.
“Who could imagine — those of us who were there 23 years ago — that fledgling movement would be what it is today,” Strickland said during a recognition service during the June 23-27 2014 CBF General Assembly in Atlanta. “And I have the high privilege of being along for the whole ride.”
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter described Strickland in a press release as someone “uniquely gifted by God for the life of CBF.”
“She is generous and has given her creativity, competency and compassion at every stage of our CBF growth,” Paynter said. “Her reputation, leadership and friendship have been like yeast, permeating the entire Fellowship family from Decatur to Shanghai.”
Paytner’s predecessor, Daniel Vestal, who worked with Strickland 15 years before retiring in 2012, said of her many contributions to CBF “her deep love and loyalty inspire me the most.”
“She is a person of impeccable integrity and conviction as well as a true friend,” Vestal said. “It is hard to imagine her not being in the CBF offices. We all will miss her.”
Strickland responded to similar praise on the General Assembly state with characteristic wit: “I feel like it’s about time for somebody to say, ‘Now don’t she look natural.’”
Strickland said she has been able to work with “three amazing executive coordinators” in Paynter, Vestal and Cecil Sherman, the first full-time CBF coordinator who died in 2010.
“I have worked with terrific colleagues that have been my friends,” Strickland said. “And I have been lucky enough to get up every day and go to a job that has been so much more than a job. It has been a calling.”
“And except for one very bad day when I flushed all my keys down the toilet — except for that day — I count it all joy,” she brought down the house in laughter.
“I cherish all of the people I’ve met across this movement over the years,” Strickland said. “The relationships are the most precious things of all.”
“Even though I’m going away from active employment, I am not leaving the Fellowship, because you are my peeps,” Strickland said in her farewell. “And wherever you go, I’m going to go, too.”
Strickland will continue to administer the reference-and-referral service on a contract basis until her replacement is found.
— With reporting by Emily Holladay and Aaron Weaver from CBF communications.