Padgett Resigns as Coordinator of Reformed University Ministries

Effective the end of November, the Rev. Mr. Marvin Padgett will no longer be Coordinator of Reformed University Ministries (RUM). The retired U.S. Air Force pilot trainer and former Christian bookstore owner tendered his resignation to the parent Mission to North America (MNA) Committee at its October meeting.

Mr. Padgett became RUM Coordinator in 1996, filling the post left vacant by the resignation of TE Mark Lowrey, who had held the job since its creation in 1983. Padgett, a personal friend of the MNA Coordinator, TE Cortez Cooper, has not enjoyed a smooth ride in his almost two years in the position. Controversy has swirled around him the last several months, particularly centered on the way in which he was appointed and his competence in the job. He also found himself caught up in the battle over proposed re-structuring of RUM which might have led to more centralization of power in Atlanta.

Fighting for 'States' Rights'

The manner of Padgett's appointment was, to many involved in denominational campus ministry, illustrative of the gravitation of power to the Atlanta bureaucracy. According to informed sources, announcement was made at the Campus Ministry Subcommittee meeting in October 1995 in Atlanta that Dr. Cooper was appointing Mr. Padgett to be the RUM Coordinator. Reports indicate that the announcement took the Campus Ministry Subcommittee, which is comprised of representatives of the various local committees which sponsor RUM works, completely by surprise. The appointment of the RUM Coordinator should have been made in consultation with the Subcommittee, which had not been done. Another meeting was scheduled for several weeks later. In the meantime, no one on the Subcommittee was to discuss the appointment with anyone else. That mandated silence apparently led Dr. Cooper to believe that there was acquiescence with his appointment. When the Subcommittee met in St. Louis, reportedly there was no discussion as to whether or not Mr. Padgett should have the post: rather, the agenda turned to determining how to break the news to the various campus ministers.

The appointment of Padgett helped to precipitate moves by four Deep South presbyteries (Covenant, Mississippi Valley, and Grace, which together sponsor the Mississippi Joint Committee on Campus Work [MJCCW], and Southeast Alabama) to ask that RUM separate from MNA to become its own Permanent Committee of General Assembly. Overtures to the 1996 General Assembly, requesting separate status for RUM, were referred to a study committee made up of people from MNA, the Administrative Committee, and a few with direct involvement in campus ministry.

Last fall, the apparent direction of this study committee alarmed many campus ministers and RUM workers. Instead of pursuing a study of the merits of separate status for RUM, the study committee quickly (after about an hour's discussion) turned to a proposed re-structure of RUM. Included among the committee's ideas was the thought that all regional coordinators of RUM would now be under the direct control of Atlanta. The person most affected by this proposed change, RE Bebo Elkin, the Mississippi Coordinator, resigned in protest.

Elkin's resignation in early March this year sent shock waves throughout the Magnolia State. Mr. Elkin assumed Lowrey's job when he left to become RUM Coordinator. Elkin also served as Interim RUM Coordinator after Lowrey left that position; and declined the offer to fill that post permanently.

The Mississippi Joint Committee asked Elkin to remain in an interim role and promptly mounted a strong defence of the principle of regional committees hiring regional coordinators. MJCCW's three constituent presbyteries all adopted strongly-worded overtures to the General Assembly. Included in overtures from these presbyteries was the position paper adopted by the Joint Committee. Mentioned in that paper were such things as the history of campus works in Mississippi (which pre-dated denominational involvement at the Assembly level), the measure of success enjoyed by this ministry, a principled defence of de-centralization, and a not-too-subtle hint that any attempt to tamper with the right of Mississippi to appoint its own Coordinator might have adverse financial consequences.

Although the 1997 General Assembly answered the overtures it received on this matter in the negative, it also instructed the study committee to listen carefully to the concerns being raised.

Questions Regarding Padgett's Acceptability

Meanwhile, Marvin Padgett's job performance was being questioned. In spring 1997, the Florida Campus Committee asked for a meeting of the Campus Subcommittee in order to elicit his resignation.

The Search for a New Coordinator

The Campus Ministry Subcommittee, with acquiescence by the Mission to North America Committee, has appointed a seven-man search committee for a new RUM Coordinator. Rev. Rod Mays, who also serves on the study committee, is Convenor. Other members include Dr. Ligon Duncan (Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS), Rev. Steve Malone (campus minister at Auburn), Rev. Roland Barnes (member of MNA Committee), Rev. Joey Stewart (Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Cookeville, TN), Rev. Alan Carter (Pastor, Faith Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, AL), and Rev. Tim Starnes (Pastor, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Cleveland, MS).

The appointment of a new RUM Coordinator has new guidelines, in that the RUM Manual has been revised. Previously, the MNA Coordinator was to "recommend" the RUM Coordinator "in consulation with" the Campus Ministry Subcommittee. The new language, hammered out this summer, states that "The MNA Coordinator has the right to select the RUM Coordinator upon the approval of the Campus Ministry Subcommittee." Wording has also been added to the effect that the Subcommittee is a disempowered committee and that any action it takes is immediately referred to MNA Committee.

It appears that all of the major players are now on the same page regarding the selection of a new RUM Coordinator. According to MNA Chairman Rev. Al Lacour, there is agreement between Dr. Wilson Benton (the interim RUM Coordinator) and Bebo Elkin regarding the process by which a new RUM Coordinator will be chosen.

Interview with Marvin Padgett

"Reformed University Ministries is now really on the national scene. I'm really pleased to be graced by the Lord to watch it." So said Teaching Elder Marvin Padgett, who, as Coordinator of RUM, has seen it extend to places like University of California at Santa Barbara, Penn State, and NewYork University. He added, "It looks like RUM is now really part of Mission of North America," in that it is expanding outside the traditional base in Dixie.

He observed that "these lunges outside the South will probably slow down a bit, because the money's in the South." Concerning ministries on Southern campuses, he declared that "the numbers . . . are staggeringly high": several hundred students involved in Reformed University Fellowship at each of several schools, including Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Ole Miss.

Mr. Padgett stated that RUM has again "scarfed off what seems to be the cream of the seminaries." For example, one of the new campus ministers was the President of the Student Body at Covenant Theological Seminary and winner of the homiletics award; and another new campus minister was also a nominee for the homiletics prize at Covenant. "It's that sort of thing that characterizes RUM during my tenure," according to Padgett.

With regard to the search for a new Coordinator, the native of Nashville says, "I'm sorry that there's going to be an interim [between Coordinators]. The office sat here basically without a person in charge for a year before I got here." Helping to mitigate the effects of that fact were the efforts of the Administrative Assistant, Miss Shirley Crowder-"one of the most organized persons in the world."

Reflecting on the controversy that has surrounded his being Coordinator of RUM, Mr. Padgett said, "I do regret the turmoil that's accompanied my tenure." He remains optimistic about RUM, calling it the "finest campus ministry around" and saying, "I know [its] future looks very bright."

He is especially pleased with the "really informed interest" that now accompanies requests for campus works in a given area. "In the past, people just looked at numbers not realizing what was involved. It's increasingly expensive unless [local] committees step up to the plate." He averred: "I'm all for committees exercising the authority. Let the presbyteries keep their power." He believes that it is at the presbytery level that the really important work takes place: "They [presbyteries] control access to the pulpit. . . . Once presbytery lets somebody in, it's hard to get them out."

Until recently, Marvin Padgett had been a ruling elder. On January 26th this year, he was ordained to the gospel ministry by Nashville Presbytery. The first thing he did after the pronouncement of his ordination was to baptize his grandchild, Calvin Marvin Kennedy.

Mr. Padgett's new job is as Editorial Director for Crossway Books in Wheaton, Ill. He calls Crossway the "best serious popular publisher out there." "Buy lots of Crossway Books," he exhorts.

TE Marvin Padgett

426 Kenilworth Circle, Stone Mt., GA 30083

(404)320-3330; marvinpadgett@compuserve.com