Seal introduced as WMU interim exec; board takes ‘steps’ toward healing

After the Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas board learned its executive committee had hired an intentional interim executive, the board then met behind closed doors to discuss unspecified personnel issues, and finally reopened the meeting for an emotional session some participants called “first steps toward healing” for the troubled organization.

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DALLAS—The Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas board of directors on June 16 learned its executive committee had hired Nelda Seal, former executive director of Louisiana WMU, as intentional interim executive director-treasurer 11 days earlier.

The board also spent an extended time in a closed-door session to discuss unspecified personnel issues and then opened the meeting for an hour-long question-and-answer session that included dramatic public apologies to former staff leaders and what some participants characterized as “first steps toward healing” for the troubled missions organization.

The first day of the two-day meeting drew about two-dozen guests, including several past presidents of Texas WMU and former staff—including Carolyn Porterfield, who unexpectedly resigned as executive director-treasurer last October, and Nina Pinkston, whom the executive committee abruptly dismissed as interim executive director-treasurer last month.

Executive committee report

The out-of-the-ordinary board meeting began with an amendment by Gloria Mills of Henderson to extend the allotted time of discussion on first day’s agenda to “make sure concerns board members have are addressed.” The amended agenda passed.

Subsequently, one board member rose to present a motion and others raised their hands. However, Texas WMU President Paula Jeser—who also has acted as volunteer interim executive director-treasurer since Pinkston was fired—noted the approved agenda called for an executive committee report prior to discussion, and she ruled any motions out of order until after the executive committee’s presentation.

“We are the ones under fire, and we know it,” Jeser said regarding the executive committee.
According to the Texas WMU bylaws, the president and executive committee hold the authority to fill the executive director-treasurer’s position in the event of a vacancy, she noted.

In a call to prayer several weeks ago, eight former Texas WMU presidents raised the possibility of hiring “an experienced intentional interim” director.

Affirming that suggestion, Jeser said she contacted national WMU Executive Director Wanda Lee to seek her counsel.  At her recommendation, the executive committee interviewed Seal of Alexandria, La., Jeser reported.  

The executive committee voted unanimously June 5 to hire Seal as intentional executive director-treasurer, Jeser said.

Seal told the board she saw the position as “a servant leadership role,” and she urged the organization to stay focused on its mission.

Behind closed doors

Next, the moderator entertained a motion calling the board into executive session. Lynette McBride of Hillsboro objected to closing the meeting, but Jeser noted that sensitive personnel issues legally could not be discussed in open session. With several board members voting in opposition, the board voted to go into a closed-door session.

Guests—including several past presidents of Texas WMU and former board members—were asked to leave the room for the remainder of the morning.

After a lunch recess when the board reassembled and several guests returned, Jeser asked for another 15 minutes of executive session to complete discussion. The afternoon executive session lasted an hour and 20 minutes—reportedly due at least in part to technical difficulties with a computerized presentation.

During that time, Mary Humphries of Lindale, a past president of Texas WMU, expressed her disappointment with the proceedings up to that point.

“Ultimately, the WMU members of churches across our state—not this board, not the staff nor the officers—represent Texas WMU,” Mrs. Humphries said. “Texas WMU has always conducted business with openness, dignity and integrity. The reputation of Texas WMU has been above reproach. I have not experienced that today.”

Public apologies

The public phase of the board meeting resumed, Jeser invited board members and guests alike to raise questions, except about personnel matters. The open discussion time included public apologies for unspecified wrongs, hugs, tears—and lingering questions.

Jeser began by recognizing Porterfield, saying: “I want to publicly say the board of directors failed in its job to hear you when you spoke to us. We did not back you.”

Turning to Pinkston, she added, “Nina, I made some big mistakes with you, and I offer my sincere apology.”

Later, board member Merle Cross of Gilmer said the board owed Porterfield an apology for not having a called meeting to hear her concerns at the time surrounding her resignation.

Several board members affirmed Porterfield and Pinkston for their roles as mentors through the years and for the leadership they provided Texas WMU.

Betty Arrell of Austin stressed the need for Christians to treat all people with dignity, love and understanding.

“But we have treated two people in this room worse than the world treats people,” she said. “It must never, never happen again.”

Irma Alvarado of Donna, one of the board members who expressed her appreciation to Porterfield, said, “Our bylaws need to be revised concerning the way we hire and fire and the way we go into executive session.”

Pat Luttrell of Vernon, a former Texas WMU staff member, agreed there are “an awful lot of holes, and the bylaws definitely need to be rewritten.” But, she said, regardless of legal documents, the board and its executive committee should seek to “do things in a Christian manner.”

Questions raised

Luttrell also noted several familiar missions programs were missing from the 2008 Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions allocations. She asked how the allocations were determined, and raised questions about the perception that Texas WMU is moving away from the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Barbara Helms of Clarendon, who chaired the finance committee that recommended the allocations and set the goal, noted Texas WMU received 160 requests. She noted evidence of some miscommunication, such as applicants who indicated they had other sources of funding, but who failed to note it was matching funding dependent upon ongoing Texas Baptist support.

Mary Watson of Harlingen, who now chairs the finance committee, said the process of soliciting requests did not begin until January for the 2008 offering, but the next round of applications will be sent in November. She also noted Wayne Shuffield, who leads the missions, evangelism and ministries team for the BGCT Executive Board staff, will be involved in all meetings.

Kaye Glazener of Fort Worth, a former board member, asked how many candidates the executive committee considered before hiring Seal. Jeser said the committee requested interviews with five candidates—most from outside Texas—but some declined to be considered.

Marie Denniston, a board member from Gary, asked whether Jeser acted in accordance with the bylaws when she appointed herself acting interim executive-treasurer. Jeser said the only actions she took in that temporary capacity were signing sheets for cash reimbursements.

Humphries asked whether the board’s executive committee possesses the power under the organization’s bylaws to terminate an interim executive. The matter of termination is not stipulated in the bylaws, Jeser said, but in Pinkston’s case it was included in the contract.

Another past president, Jeane Law of Lubbock indicated the executive committee holds power under the Texas WMU bylaws to take action only “in emergency sessions between board meetings.”

“What could have been so critical that it couldn’t wait until the board meeting?” she asked.

Jeser again stated she could not discuss personnel issues in open session, but she added: “I have lost no sleep. I feel fine about the decisions we have made.”

Repair damage

Minette Drumwright Pratt of Fort Worth, a former board member and longtime missions leader, noted the harm that events in recent months have caused Texas WMU.

“We must do what we can do to repair the damage that has taken place,” she said.

Humphries reminded board members their service on the state board is a privilege.
“But with this privilege comes great responsibility. You are accountable to the women in the churches in your city and area and to the women in churches across the state—the backbone of missions in Texas,” she said.

Noting recent events represent “more than just a little misunderstanding,” she said, “We need to do a lot of work and a lot of praying.”

Gerry Dunkin, another past president of Texas WMU, reminded the board, “God told us to love one another.” Mrs. Dunkin led a prayer asking God to bring about healing and wholeness in Texas WMU.

Cindy Gaskins, former state Acteens consultant, remarked Texas WMU had nurtured her, encouraged her and even commissioned her family for missionary service when she, her husband and their children went to serve International Baptist Church in Hong Kong.

Citing the pain she experienced in recent months, she commented, “I feel like my mama has been messed with.”

Deirdre LaNoue, an adjunct instructor at Dallas Baptist University, echoed the same sentiment.
“I feel like Texas WMU raised me,” she said.

Texas WMU should listen to the wise counsel of past presidents and longtime leaders, she stressed.
“I hope we always will be faithful to honor those who have come before us and to listen to those who have gone before us,” she said.

In a surprising move, Porterfield asked to speak at the conclusion of the question-and-answer session.

“I had not planned to come here today,” she said.  “But I wanted you to look me in the face. And I wanted to look you in the face, and to say, ‘I love you.’”

The last eight months have been “an interesting journey,” she said, acknowledging her struggle with forgiveness and with a range of emotions.

“I’m letting it go,” she told the board.

She described standing at the graves of Mary Hill Davis and longtime WMU Executive Director Eula Mae Henderson in recent weeks and asking, “What do you think about us today?”

“It’s time to move forward,” Porterfield told the board. “Do the right thing for the right reason in the right way.

“I love you. I gave you 15 years of my life. Make me proud. But more than that, honor the Father. Ultimately, that’s all that matters.”

Following a training session, the board is scheduled to reconvene for business at 1 p.m., Tuesday, June 17.

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