PLAINVIEW – For more than 20 years students at Wayland Baptist University have sat in Dr. Fred Meeks’ religion classes listening to his distinguished baritone voice and unique speech cadence fill the room.
“This,” many have said, “is surely what God must sound like.”
Future students will not have that experience, however, as Meeks, who served as pastor at First Baptist Church of Plainview before joining the Wayland faculty in 1985, will retire effective Aug. 31.
Throughout his tenure, Meeks served as the Lester W. James Professor of Religion and as the chairman of the Division of Religion and Philosophy. He holds an undergraduate degree from Baylor University, and Master of Divinity and Doctor of Theology degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. During his time at Wayland, Meeks has been instrumental in adding many courses to Wayland’s curriculum as well as designing new degree plans, including the Master’s, Bachelor’s and Certificate of Christian Ministry degrees. Under his leadership, the Division is currently petitioning the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to offer the M.Div. completely on line.
Meeks has also played a role in developing Wayland’s partnership with Logsdon Seminary and with the Kenya Baptist Theological College where, beginning in July, Wayland will offer a full bachelor’s degree in religion.
“It is impossible to truly replace Dr. Meeks,” said Dr. Bobby Hall, Vice President for Academic Services. “He has masterfully led the Division of Religion and Philosophy, served tirelessly in the academic and administrative governance of the institution, and been a spiritual beacon in the lives of faculty, staff and students.”
With all he has done in his administrative role, however, Meeks said his most memorable accomplishment was in hiring Dr. Carolyn Ratcliffe.
“At one time, I believe we were the only school associated with the (Baptist General Convention of Texas) that had a woman teaching Old and New Testament,” he said. “Women had taught church history and Christian education and areas like that. But the struggle in Southern Baptist life had been about a woman teaching men the Bible.
“That is something that I really feel a lot of joy about.”
Meeks has watched his students continue their education and earn masters’ and doctorate degrees. He has enjoyed watching as their ministries grow and flourish. He has also built a lasting relationship with many churches in the area, serving as an interim pastor 27 times in the last 21 years.
“It’s always a highlight to reflect on the relationships you build with the churches,” Meeks said. “Being in this position enabled me to get into many more churches than I would have if I had stayed in a single pastorate. What it has done for me is make me realize as a believer, as a Christian, as a Baptist, wherever you go in the world, find a Baptist church and you are home.”
Meeks and his wife Sally will have to find a new home now as they head into retirement. They built a log cabin retirement home near Kenosha Pass, Colo., more than 20 miles from the nearest Baptist church.
Meeks said he and his wife are looking forward to their time in the mountains. It has always been a dream of theirs. A dream Meeks chose to pursue after the death of a close friend.
“Dr. (Bill) Hardage and I talked about our future dreams many times, and we always ended our conversation with comments about not waiting too long to accomplish them,” Meeks said.
Dr. Hardage, Wayland’s Executive Vice President, was tragically killed in a plane accident in March.
“His death contributed to my decision,” Meeks said.
Leaving Wayland will not be easy for the long-time professor. He has many fond memories and friendships at the school, and he is leaving several goals unfinished. One such goal being the development of a missions center which he proposed to the administration.
“The two areas students seem to have the most interest in are church planting and missions,” Meeks said. “It seems like students want to start from scratch, which is wonderful.”
Meeks’ proposal incorporates the Kenya project, giving students access to a mission field. While he knows he won’t be here to see to project to fruition, Meeks said he is confident the school will continue to look into the possibilities.
Even though Meeks will officially retire in August, he is not planning on giving up on teaching. He has already agreed to teach an online course in the fall and spring semesters for Wayland and said if he gets too bored during retirement he might volunteer to teach more. He is also hoping to make his way to Kenya to teach classes in conjunction with the new degree offering.
For now, however, it is business as usual as Meeks wraps up an online course he is teaching and prepares for his summer work. He also has to decide what to do with the 100s of books lining the walls in his office. After all, there’s just no shelf space in his log cabin.
“The man who built it built a good crawl space under the cabin,” Meeks said. “I may have to set up some bookshelves down there.”