Cecil Sherman spoke last month to the CBF of North Carolina General Assembly. Photo courtesy CBFNC
ATLANTA – Cecil Sherman, longtime leader of free and faithful Baptists and one of the central figures to help give birth to the renewal movement known as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, died from complications of a heart attack April 17 in Virginia.
Sherman, the founding coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, suffered a massive heart attack April 15 and died two days later at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond, Va. He was 82.
A worship service celebrating his life will be held at 2 p.m. April 20 at River Road Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. A second service will follow at 2 p.m. at First Baptist Church, Asheville, N.C., on April 23. More details on the arrangements are forthcoming. Updates will be posted to www.thefellowship.info as well as http://www.cecilsherman.com/news.html.
"Baptists have lost a great champion, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has lost its founding coordinator and I have lost a friend,” said Fellowship Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal. “But I celebrate his fruitful life and the resurrection hope we have in Jesus Christ.”
Born Dec. 26, 1927, Sherman was a native of Fort Worth, Texas. He graduated from Baylor University in Waco, Texas; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, N.J.
Sherman served as pastor of several churches including First Baptist Church of Chamblee, Ga. (1956-1960); First Baptist Church of College Station, Texas (1960-1962); First Baptist Church of Asheville, N.C. (1964-1984); and Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas (1985-1992). He also served at Baptist General Convention of Texas as staff associate in the evangelism division from 1962-1964.
As fundamental-conservative leadership shifts began to occur within the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979, Sherman was among those who recognized and fought against the change, paving the way for the formation of the Fellowship in 1991. He was then unanimously selected by the Fellowship’s first Coordinating Council to become the new organization’s first coordinator. He began serving on April 1, 1992, and served until his retirement in 1996.
“Cecil had the courage and capacity to look reality in the face and make hard decisions. His leadership was widely recognized,” said Jim Slatton, who chaired the search committee that recommended Sherman for the CBF role. “Cecil is a genuine churchman, who has a real life-wish for the local church and for the Baptist denomination and for Baptist principles.”
Clarissa Strickland, the Fellowship’s networking specialist, was among the two Fellowship employees when Sherman joined the staff. “Cecil presided over the nascent Fellowship with the utmost integrity and with an enormous life-wish for the organization,” she said. “Cecil was unstinting in his willingness to spend his energies as he traveled throughout our constituency, building the base of CBF during those early years. And he did so with the full support of his beloved wife, Dot.”
Sherman met Dorothy “Dot” Hair in 1950, and the two were married on Dec. 23, 1953, in Greer, S.C. After 54 years of marriage, Dot died Aug. 1, 2008. Just days before her death, Sherman was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and underwent repeated treatments at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
At the time of his diagnosis, Sherman was serving as a pastor of Westover Baptist Church in Richmond, where he had lived for several years. He had also served as interim pastor of several Richmond churches including Chamberlayne Baptist Church, Westhampton Baptist Church and River Road Baptist Church.
Sherman’s cancer treatments had been largely successful, and he was able to continue serving as a visiting professor of pastoral ministries at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (BTSR), a CBF partner seminary where he has taught since 1996.
“His devotion to his students was nothing short of legendary. He saw himself preparing a new generation of ministers for local church ministry,” said Ron Crawford, the seminary’s president. “His service at BTSR has made a grand contribution to students. It is a contribution that will pay dividends in the lives of ministers and churches for decades to come.”
Also an author, Sherman’s writings include a 2008 memoir, “By My Own Reckoning,” and the Formations Bible study commentary series for adult Sunday school classes. Recently, he had been writing a new book, which had not yet been published.
Sherman is survived by family including his only child, Eugenia Brown of Madison, Wis.; a brother, Bill Sherman of Nashville, Tenn.; a sister, Ruth Hamm of Edmond, Okla.; and a grandson, Nathaniel Brown.
CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.
Editor’s note: A high resolution version of this photograph as well as a photo gallery of other photos of Cecil Sherman are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/thefellowship/4525977502/.