CBF nominates woman leader
By Bob Allen
Suzii Paynter, the first woman to serve as director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission, has been nominated as third executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
If elected, Paynter would join Sharon Watkins of the Disciples of Christ and the Episcopal Church’s Katharine Jefferts Schori as one of the few women ever to lead a national denominational organization in the United States.
She also would join a select sisterhood of women in top leadership roles in conventions and unions affiliated with the Baptist World Alliance, alongside names like Regina Claas, secretary general of the Union of Evangelical Free Churches in Germany since 2003, and Karin Wilburn, who stepped down two years ago as general secretary of the Baptist Union of Sweden to become head of the nation’s ecumenical movement.
A pastor’s wife, Paynter is a past member of the CBF Coordinating Council and worked as a volunteer to co-chair the group’s second General Assembly. A graduate of Baylor University with master’s degrees from Stephen F. Austin University and the University of Louisville, she was elected head of the Texas CLC in 2006. Before that she served five years as the agency’s citizenship and public policy director.
Paynter served 25 years as a national literacy professional, professor and consultant. She is a frequent teacher and ordained deacon at First Baptist Church in Austin, where her husband, Roger, is pastor.
Her nomination follows a year-long search by a 10-member committee appointed to find a successor to Daniel Vestal, who led the moderate Baptist organization formed in 1991 for 16 years before retiring last summer.
The CBF Coordinating Council is scheduled to vote on her nomination at the group’s upcoming meeting Feb. 21-22. Introduction of a new chief executive is expected to be a highlight of this year’s CBF General Assembly, which meets June 26-28 in Greensboro, N.C.
The first CBF executive coordinator, Cecil Sherman, held the post from 1992 until 1996.
Paynter said she felt “privileged and energized” to be a candidate for the position. “The Fellowship is blessed with leaders of all generations, robust state organizations and vital mission partnerships that are changing the world,” she said. “I look forward to traveling towards a bright future, linking arms with this beloved community and sharing God’s transforming love.”
George Mason, chair of the search committee, said Paynter’s gender did not play a major role in her selection.
“We are nominating Suzii Paynter because we believe she is the right person for the job,” said Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, adding, the fact that she is both a woman and layperson is a double bonus.
“CBF has held high the value of women and laypersons in leading our churches and our cooperative work,” he said. “That these should come together in one person beautifully personifies who we have been, who we are, and who we should be.”
— Patricia Heys of CBF communications contributed to this report.