FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary welcomed alumni and friends from around the country to its centennial year alumni luncheon during the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting, June 11. The seminary honored a 104-year-old pastor, a gifted musician and a denominational leader with Distinguished Alumni Awards in addition to hearing a president’s report, electing alumni association officers and celebrating Southwestern’s 100th year of training men and women for Gospel ministry.

Eugene Florence, Gary Moore and Tom Elliff were recipients of the 2008 Distinguished Alumni Awards. President Paige Patterson commended them for their faithful service to the Lord and for representing Southwestern Seminary throughout their ministries.

At 104 years old, Florence is still living for the Lord. As an African-American student at Southwestern from 1943 to 1951, he was enrolled in the Negro Extensions program and received his diploma of theology. He went on to pastor several churches in conjunction with holding down several part-time jobs. After recognizing that the coursework he completed actually qualified him for a master’s degree rather than merely a diploma in theology, Patterson presented Florence with a Master of Divinity in 2004.

Florence graciously accepted his Distinguished Alumni Award to a standing ovation by alumni and revealed his heart on the issue of race. “I don’t see color; I just see all God’s people,” he said.

As for what the future holds, Florence said, “However many years I have left, I just want to be a blessing.” Despite his advanced years, he continues to preach the Gospel whenever he gets the chance.

Moore serves as senior associate pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. An accomplished musician and composer, Moore has traveled around the world with adult and youth choirs to spread the Gospel through music. He has composed more than 200 songs, the most famous being “The Throne,” which he co-wrote with Michael W. Smith. The song was featured on one of Smith’s albums and later voted “Song of the Year” by Gospel Music Magazine. He has also written, produced, and directed 13 original musicals. 

Expressing his appreciation for the seminary, Moore said, “The faculty took great attention, great care and great love to not only teach the students the necessities of life but also the hard things they needed to do to succeed and make their ministries effective.”

A third generation pastor, Elliff served as pastor of several churches, including 20 years at First Southern Baptist church of Del City, Okla., before arriving at his current position as senior vice president of spiritual nurture and church relations for the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Active in denominational leadership throughout his ministry, Elliff served as president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference and president of the SBC for two terms.

Elliff considers his days at Southwestern one of the most influential times in his life. “When seminary students talk about seminary,” he said, “we don’t talk as much about what we learned as who we learned under. We talk about the people who influenced our lives, and I can give you a list of folks who influenced my life deeply while at Southwestern Seminary.”

Patterson shared his annual alumni report, noting the many ways God is blessing Southwestern Seminary. Recognizing the seminary’s presence around the world, he pointed to degree programs offered through Southwestern in Germany, Korea and the Philippines as well as theological training in various locations in South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. Southwestern also boasts an international faculty from countries all over the globe, including India, Syria, Lebanon, Romania and Zimbabwe.

Patterson praised faculty and students for their ongoing involvement and passion for evangelism and missions. “Missions becomes the air you breathe,” he said. “The mission and evangelistic task of the church becomes the very atmosphere of the school. Ladies and gentleman, that’s the way it ought to be, and that’s the way it is at Southwestern Seminary now.”

Patterson extended special welcome to Rebekah Naylor, Camille Lee Hornbeck, Tommy French, and Billy Kim. Hornbeck authored the recently published biography on Naylor’s life of service as a medical missionary and strategy coordinator for the IMB. French endowed a $100,000 scholarship for student ministers’ wives in honor of his late wife Mary. Billy Kim aided Southwestern students and professors in a recent musical mission trip to Korea where 365 people made professions of faith. He also received the Distinguished Baptist Statesman Award from the SBC Executive Committee for his commitment to evangelism and leading Baptists around the world throughout his ministry.

Current alumni president Paul Kim announced a new venture in the alumni association structure. Work is underway to create City Alumni Fellowships across the United States, which will serve as connection centers for alumni near major cities. The purpose is to provide increased alumni relations through prayer, fellowship and fund raising for Southwestern.

In election of National Alumni officers, Byron McWilliams, pastor of First Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas, was elected president and Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., was elected vice president.