meet me in st. louis
by John Arlon Hawke
TO FIND OUT MORE about the Board of Retirement, visit www.nafwb.org or call
CLARENCE BURTON DID WHAT NO ONE ELSE HAS DONE in the 44-year history of the Board of Retirement. He enrolled in the retirement program, retired at age 65, then un-retired, and later retired again, taking annuities both times.
“I even tried to set up a third annuity,” chuckled the 79-year-old former Missouri executive secretary. “They told me that two per person was the limit.”
Burton retired in 1992 after 17 years as Missouri’s chief executive, began drawing Social Security benefits, and took his first annuity. But Pastor Glenn Murray (United FWB Church, West Plains) needed an associate pastor, so Clarence un-retired and set up another retirement account. Five years later, he set up another annuity while serving in this capacity.
Even though Clarence stepped back from major pastoral duties this year, he still logs more time at preacher duties than at the fishing hole.
“I am pleased with my Board of Retirement investment,” Burton said. “Income from my two annuities allows me to serve as needed without requiring a full-time salary.”
Arkansas-born and raised, Clarence champions young ministers preparing for retirement. “I encourage early and regular investment with the Board of Retirement. If they live long enough, every preacher will retire. Plan ahead. Start today.”
Road to St. Louis
The Clarence and Vivian Burton story began in 1950 when a small-town Missouri girl from Myrtle got a job in St. Louis, met a handsome soldier on furlough, and married him. They began attending Third FWB Church where Reverend Ben Scott pastored.
Clarence questioned why God called him to preach in 1951, and argued a bit with the Lord. “After all,” he said, “I planned to be an optometrist. I didn’t have a strong voice for preaching or the leadership skills for pastoring.”
Pastor Scott nudged the would-be optometrist toward Nashville where he enrolled at Free Will Baptist Bible College and graduated in 1955.
“The years at FWBBC changed me,” Burton reflects. “My approach to ministry, my Christian life—everything refocused because of my studies there and the influence of those great teachers.”
Man of the People
Clarence pastored 23 years in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri, before he became Missouri’s executive secretary. He served on the Arkansas and Missouri Home Mission Boards, and as Missouri’s assistant moderator and moderator. He was elected to two national boards, serving five years on the Sunday School Board and 12 on the FWBBC Board of Trustees.
The Missouri State Association expected their executive secretary to be a journalist, a business manager, and a pastor to pastors. Which meant that Clarence published The Gem (Missouri’s state paper), planned state associations and retreats, and built a state office and a bookstore in Lebanon.
“God used me to help build up the churches,” Burton says. “I preached a truckload of sermons, but my life’s work is ministering to those who minister to others.”
Gunfire and Airplanes
Clarence came to the pulpit through gunfire and airplanes. He joined the U.S. Army in 1944, and was among the first American soldiers to enter Japan as part of the occupation force.
“That was a very interesting experience,” he remembers. “I am so glad that Free Will Baptists now have a wonderful missions ministry in Japan.”
Burton later joined the Air Force Reserve and served with the Fifth Air Force during the Korean War.
“If I could go back and do it all over again,” he says, “I’d try to get to Bible College sooner. Man, I had a lot to learn!”
What most people don’t know about the courteous, soft-spoken minister is that he attended six colleges—three in Arkansas, two in Tennessee and one in Texas. But for Clarence, everything begins in St. Louis where he met Vivian, the beautiful woman who changed his life 56 years ago.
John Arlon Hawke, former pastor and educator for 20 years, now does free-lance writing from his Middle Tennessee home. His articles appear occasionally in ONE Magazine.