Judson prepares for “Baptist Builders” team visit, honors long-time leader
In less than two weeks, Judson College and Perry County will welcome a team of 50 volunteers from First Baptist Church in Huntsville for a week of building projects in Perry County. The team is “Baptist Builders”, and its volunteers have been visiting Perry County every summer for 14 years to complete building, restoration, and construction-related projects at churches, homes, and schools in the area. One of the Builders’ founding members is Gordon Perry, who retired from his team leadership in 2015 and was recognized by Judson College in December for his outstanding service to the Perry County community.
In the early 2000s the retired mechanical engineer for Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville assembled a crew of former architects, engineers, contractors, and maintenance workers from his church for a building project in their church’s fellowship hall. After several other projects (including construction of another church) and the addition of more members, Perry’s group decided to organize officially. Calling themselves S.M.A.R.T. (Small Maintenance and Repair Team) Guys, they took on other projects for their church and others in the community. Perry shared an anecdote about a friend who protested that the new group might be called upon to do such small tasks as changing light bulbs for older people in the church, and Perry replied, “That’s exactly right.”
This spirit of using the skills he has to help whomever and wherever he can is what led Perry and the Baptist Builders to join a partnership with Perry County and local non-profit Sowing Seeds of Hope.
Following a presentation about Sowing Seeds of Hope at their church in Huntsville, Perry and others joined their first project in Marion–a painting project at Marion’s old National Guard Armory. As he painted alongside citizens and leaders of Marion, Perry was impressed by the spirit of community and teamwork he witnessed among workers there. Remembering his nearly seven years of experience as a construction coordinator for WorldChangers, an organization that provides students with missions experiences through construction service projects, Perry recommended organizing a similar volunteer program for Perry County.
In 2002, Perry and his friend Rowe Smith led the first two teams, comprised of 85 volunteers from First Baptist Church and Mount Zion Baptist Church in Huntsville, to Perry County. That first summer these “Baptist Builders”, as they became known, worked on churches and houses in Marion and Uniontown –“whatever was needed,” Perry said. Sowing Seeds of Hope personnel identified projects, and Perry arranged volunteers, materials, and tools needed for each project. His wife Pat coordinated the teams’ lodging and meals.
Since that summer 14 years ago, 50-100 volunteers from those Huntsville churches have returned to Marion each year. Volunteers stay in a Judson residence hall and use the campus as a home base for their week-long projects each June. Teams still work on projects at homes and churches across Perry County, as well as at Judson. In 2015 the teams wired stables and added siding to the new classroom space at Judson’s Equine Center. Said Perry of the project: “We were glad to see Judson have that [space]. We were glad to do what we could to help.”
Doing what he can to help seems ingrained in Perry’s consciousness and gives him motivation to serve. In addition to his work in Perry County, Perry has continued to use his skills to coordinate groups and lead projects to completion at home in the Huntsville/Madison area. Perry has coordinated the Living Christmas Tree construction for more than 20 years at FBC Huntsville and has recently been involved in the refurbishing of 25 low-income houses and a school in Lincoln Village, a nearby turn-of-the century mill village. In recent years, Perry has been training others to take over many of his leadership roles. At 81 years of age, Perry chuckled, it is “time to slow down a little”.
In appreciation of Perry’s leadership in the Baptist Builders projects in Perry County, Judson College hosted a luncheon in his honor in December. Longtime friends John and Judy Martin coordinated the luncheon. John Martin, who was executive director of Sowing Seeds of Hope when the first Huntsville group came to Perry County, made a clock from wood reclaimed from Judson’s former equine stables. “The idea was to give him something that was part of Judson and would remind him of the time he spent here,” said Judy Martin.
A team of six volunteers will take over leadership of the Perry County partnership, which Perry and his wife Pat coordinated for 14 years. Volunteer mission leader Dennis Brooks will lead the Perry County team this summer. “Our new team is forming plans to continue the work for Sowing Seeds of Hope and Judson College as well as expand into helping with community-wide improvement efforts,” said Brooks.
“I’m glad the Perry County work is going to continue,” said Perry. “Once I’d take people to Perry County, and they’d get to work with the people there, they’d just want to keep coming back.”
Though Perry is retiring from Baptist Builders team leadership, he has begun work on another project and plans to return to Marion with the volunteers when he can. “A long-time woodcrafter, Gordon will devote his time to helping with FBC Huntsville’s participation in the Personal Energy Transportation project,” said Brooks. The Personal Energy Transportation project builds carts for physically-handicapped individuals across the globe.”
Frances Ford, Executive Director of Sowing Seeds of Hope, has worked with Perry for many years of his association with SSOH and Perry County. “Mr. Perry is one of a kind,” Ford said. “He has a spirit of service, a spirit of giving back, of commitment, of being the presence of Christ.” She agreed that Perry’s work has had far-reaching impact: “Whether it was in Huntsville, in another country, or here in Perry County, his work has truly been about doing the work of Christ–making a difference in people’s lives and improving the quality of living for individuals wherever he is. His leadership brought so much, not just to First Baptist Huntsville, but to Sowing Seeds of Hope and to Perry County.”
PHOTO: Gordon Perry (seated) poses with his custom-made Judson clock and (L to R) David Potts, Judy and John Martin, and Frances Ford at the luncheon held in his honor at Judson in December.
PHOTO CREDIT: Dennis Brooks, First Baptist Church Huntsville