Retired preacher was 'wonderful friend and neighbor'

Friends of Summerfield resident Cecil Sims, who passed away Dec. 7, are remembering him as a "wonderful friend and neighbor," according to fellow golfer Jim Allen.

"Cecil and I became good friends shortly after Donna and I moved to Summerfield in 2004, I think partly because we share rural roots," Allen said. "We had several good conversations about his Baptist career - he enjoyed being known as 'Preacher Sims.' Although you might think a pastor is a lot different than other folks, I believe one of Cecil's best attributes was how much we were alike.

"He became just as frustrated at a bad golf shot, just as intense about college football (loved his Baylor Bears), just as angry at political stupidity and just as emotional about the passing of a good friend as any of us. He was a wonderful friend and neighbor, and we will surely miss him."

Next-door neighbor Marion Hill recalled, "Cecil was the kind of neighbor that we all should have. He was generous with his time and always was willing to help.

"One help for me was the influence of his gardening skills. For example, when I saw him busily working on his frequent gardening projects, my conscience hurts so badly that I had to get to work in my garden to catch up. Of course, I never did."

Jack Vogel, current member of the Summerfield Civic Association Board of Directors and past president of the Summerfield Men's Golf Club, said, "I only knew Cecil for seven years but I felt like I had known him all of my life. He was just that kind of a person - a genuine, first-class guy. The Summerfield community has suffered a great loss. There will never be another Cecil Sims.

"His very recognizable 'Texas preacher ' voice will be with me all of my life. But what I remember most about Cecil was his devotion to the Summerfield Men's Golf Club and the Summerfield Civic Association. Whatever volunteer assignment he took on - and there were many - he did with class. All of us will miss his counsel, leadership and devotion to Summerfield."

As people who knew Cecil said, you could take him out of Texas, but you couldn't take the Texas out of him. (See the obituary on Page 8.)

Cecil said he was saved by the Lord and baptized when he was 8 years old, and at the age of 13, he got the calling to be a preacher. "Becoming a preacher was a developing conviction - it wasn't a star in the sky," Cecil said in an interview for a story that ran in the February 2011 Regal Courier.

When Cecil was only 17, a local church recognized his calling and licensed him to perform ministerial functions. During his senior year at Baylor University, Cecil served as interim pastor for one of what he called "cotton patch churches" that proliferated in rural Texas.

While at Baylor in the late 1940s, Cecil was the caretaker of the live Baylor Bear and decided the bear should be in attendance at a game against Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

"With little or no planning, Dad put the bear on the team train, checked into the team hotel with the bear and took it into the hotel kitchen to get it food," Cecil's son Jamie recalled. "When the staff did a double take, they finally stammered, 'What do a bear eat?' Dad's reply was. "Anything it wants to!' As I recall hearing, the bear ate better than most of the team."

After graduating from Baylor with a bachelor of art degree, Cecil served as pastor for four years at a church that had 15 members when he started and more than 100 when he left. He also met his wife Jeannine Becker during this time while visiting his parents - she was the daughter of their new next-door neighbors, and the two sets of parents shared a phone line. "She could not get a phone call without me knowing it," Cecil said.

After dating for two years, the couple married June 12, 1951.

While serving as pastor at another church, Cecil completed his master of divinity degree and worked for two years on a master's of theology degree. (He moved to the Northwest before completing his degree but was later honored with a doctor of divinity degree by Hardin Simmons University.)

"Those three country churches really prepared me for the ministry," Cecil said. "You are continually among your people. You learn their needs and problems. Everybody knows everybody. It was a great lesson in life for a young preacher."

The couple had two sons, Jerry and David, by 1954, when Cecil was invited to help start a church in Wenatchee, Wash. After a brief trip there to meet the potential congregation and preach to raise money to pay for his train fare back to Texas, the family moved to the Northwest towing a 5-by-7-foot U-Haul.

"We had the trailer full, and stuff tied on the front, top and back," Cecil said. "We dried diapers hanging out the car windows."

Cecil ended up staying with the Wenatchee church, which originally met in a warehouse by the railroad tracks, for 10 years, and the congregation grew from 16 to 400 members. Daughter Julie was born in 1956, and son Jamie was born in 1960.

Cecil worked at other jobs while serving as a pastor, including stints in a sawmill and in the orchards, and he talked about God when given the opportunity. At one orchard outside Wenatchee, the owner told him to stop preaching and start picking apples, but a year later, Cecil baptized him, "and he became a pretty good Baptist," Cecil recalled.

In 1964, Cecil became pastor of a church in Lakewood near McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis outside Tacoma, with people in the military comprising 75 percent of the congregation. Their average stay there was 10 months, and then they moved on.

"I enrolled 450 people one year for a net gain of 15," Cecil said. "After five years of running a spiritual motel, I decided we had to get more stable."

He targeted retired military personnel in the area, "and the fast growth stopped, and the stable growth started," Cecil recalled.

The church also was integrated on Cecil's first Sunday: "Three black people joined the church, and six dyed-in-the-wool Southerners left," he said. "Literally, the church was desegregated that day. My policy was that everyone was welcome."

Cecil stayed in Lakewood until 1973, and during his later years there, he started a Sunday school class for Asian women married to soldiers. It developed into a mission church, and today the First Baptist Church of Tacoma, Korean, is one of the strongest churches in Tacoma.

Cecil's next stop was Richland Baptist Church, and due to many young people moving to the area decades before to produce plutonium for the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Cecil found an aging population that kept the local undertaker busy.

"The undertaker asked me if he could call on me to do funerals if a family did not have a pastor," Cecil recalled, and for the next five years, his ministry expanded.

"My approach to ministry is to become a friend, share their grief, help people find comfort and hope, and to know the Lord," Cecil said. "People like someone who is warm and caring and relates informally - that's my style - and a sense of humor also helps."

In 1978, Cecil was asked to become the coordinator for Southern Baptist work in Western Canada, which required a move to Calgary, Alberta.

"For two years, we traveled around Western Canada… " he said. "I often told folks we lived in our Volkswagen, but we had an apartment in Calgary, where we kept our furniture and washed our clothes."

In 1980 Cecil became the executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, a job he held until 1995.

"We moved to Portland… " Cecil said. "In 1980 there were 270 churches in the convention, and when I left, there were 300. Now there are more than 440."

Cecil added, "I was the denominational show horse. I went to building dedications, pastor installations and note burnings… I knew every Southern Baptist pastor in the Northwest."

As executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, Cecil drove 30,000 to 50,000 miles per year all over the Northwest.

"When you drive that much, you often look for ways to pass the time," said Jamie Sims. "Unfortunately, Cecil developed the habit of reading while driving. One evening he got pulled over by an Oregon state patrolman down near Roseburg. Cecil wasn't speeding, but the officer had just received a report of somebody driving on I-5 reading with their dome light on.

"The officer couldn't believe it, but a few minutes later Cecil came driving by with his light on and clearly reading a book. When the officer asked him why, Dad's reply was, 'Most people look off at the trees or up at the stars every once in a while. I drive so much every year, instead of looking out the window, I just glance down and read a few lines in my book before looking back at the road.'

"Somehow that logic resonated with the officer, who let dad off with a warning but made it clear 'he couldn't condone such activity.' Cecil was pretty sure that the same officer later attended revival services he was holding in that area."

After Cecil retired, the new executive director asked him to oversee construction of a 42,000-square-foot office building and seminary in Vancouver, and Cecil noted that as a pastor and denominational leader over the decades, he led or participated in 19 different building programs.

In 1996 Cecil was asked to co-write the history of the convention, and in 1997, he became the convention's volunteer stewardship strategist, driving all over the Northwest visiting churches and teaching biblical stewardship.

Cecil also managed to find time to write numerous articles and publish a second book

He and Jeannine moved to Summerfield in 1992, and Cecil served on the civic association's Board of Directors, including one year as president, and he was active in the Summerfield Men's Golf Club.

"Living in Summerfield has been one of the most pleasant of life's experiences," Cecil said.

Reflecting on his life in the church, Cecil shared the guiding principles of his ministry: "Don't be 'preacherish,' be real. Preach simple, sincere, scriptural sermons. Be honest with God, yourself, your family and your fellow man.

"As a pastor, love your people, live with your people and lead your people."

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