Yeats on Windermere

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Published On June 19, 2014 by John Yeats

As you read the report about the redemption of 970 acres of land surrounding Windermere, some will ask themselves, “What are they thinking? Didn’t we lose Windermere on appeal with the state Supremes? Isn’t this finished?”

When I first heard of a potential buy-back, I had similar thoughts. However, with a little more time and information, the word that began to stick in my brain was “comprehensive” and more specifically, “think comprehensively.”

Whenever we face a difficult situation, there is a real temptation, at least for me, to hear something counter-intuitive and to react from the context of the limited information I currently possess. But with time and additional information, we all have the capacity to gain a greater understanding.

You would have thought that the decision by the state Supreme Court brought closure to the Windermere situation. I wish it were so. I wish it was that simple.

However, it is a complex issue complicated by information that is bound by court order and by recent actions of the Windermere Baptist Conference Center (WBCC) self-perpetuating board of trustees. It will take a few months to sort this out. Meanwhile, the redemption of 970 wilderness acres gives our Executive Board a vital tool in comprehensively thinking toward the future. 

Many Missouri Baptists are still getting to know me. My heart is to work cooperatively on the basis of vibrant relationships, not calcified institutionalism. One of the things that facilitate relationships is trust, and trust must be earned. An organizational position doesn’t automatically provide trustworthiness. Trust is developed by authenticity, integrity, openness and time. 

One thing you learn very quickly from me is that I like “sunshine” on the affairs and processes of organizations. Certainly there are times that deference is warranted, but I do believe in the old adage, “An informed Baptist is a better Baptist.” 

That is why we work so hard to communicate with as many Baptists as possible the message of Missouri Baptists on mission with God and the details about the challenges we face in this changing world. This includes as much information as possible about our victories and defeats in the closing chapters of the litigation with the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) entities that changed their charters and adopted self-perpetuating boards.

That is the reason as soon as we had a clear legal assessment of the Foundation ruling from Judge Conley – in which the judge ruled on all counts in our favor – we issued a public statement. We want to help you make well-informed decisions about all matters pertaining to the MBC. The more we learn from one another, the more we can work together for the cause of Christ.

To our knowledge everything that we could legally communicate to Missouri Baptists has been and will continue to be public. From my study of the documents, the length of this litigation is an example of a jurisprudence that allows procedural rules to delay and ultimately deny the truth and substantive rights. 

I regret that many details of this unjust and sordid tale will remain confidential by court order. The legal documents – stacked 29 feet deep – would be a treasure of research for the writing of a book, but the Windermere storyline is too sad for anyone to read through the brackish waters of legalese. 

This is why we are communicating to you in clear terms about the re-purchase of the wilderness area. We want you to know the motivations of the Executive Board and that this is a comprehensive step toward conclusion. 

We want you to think with us – think comprehensively with us. That is why we welcome your questions and your input. We will even listen to someone vent their frustrations because that is what we do in relationships. We listen to one another and we search for solutions together. 

While we are talking about sunshine and records, the reports of the Executive Board are matters of public record, and as Missouri Baptists you are welcome to see them at any time. That includes our audit reports, which are stellar. 

As part of my role as executive director, I want you to know that one of the important motivators for the action by the MBC Executive Board to re-purchase the wilderness area was to use a non-judicial way to recover valuable ministry property while seeking to bring closure to the litigation and the whole litigant culture that has impeded the work of Missouri Baptists over the course of the last decade. 

We are grateful to the Lord for the favorable ruling on the Foundation case, and we eagerly await Judge Conley’s decision on the Baptist Home and Missouri Baptist University. Win or lose legal judgments, I pray that the Lord will judge that Missouri Baptists were faithful to our responsibilities.

Remember, the historic principle of Baptist trusteeship is at stake and worthy of the investment to defend it. And, by God’s grace, we are closer to the end than the beginning.

In these days I am seeing a fresh stirring of God’s Spirit moving among our churches and His people. It is like there is a fresh wind blowing in the top of the trees. Join me praying. Let us call upon the Lord. Could it be that our Lord would bring beauty from these ashes? Could it be that we together can be witnesses of God placing muscle and flesh on the dry dead bones of the past? What does God will to do with a people who will seek Him above the fray?

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John Yeats

Executive Director at Missouri Baptist Convention
John Yeats directs the MBC’s missionary staff; administers CP funds given by MBC churches; serves as publisher of The Pathway, the official news journal of the MBC; and sets the state’s strategy for fulfilling the Acts 1:8 mission mandate.
He previously served as director of communications and public policy for the Louisiana Baptist Convention. He also served as editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger and served the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana as director of communications and editor of the Indiana Baptist.
He received a B.A. from Dallas Baptist University, a M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a D.Min. from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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