As a relatively young man, and everything’s relative, I was a little apprehensive about coming on the staff of a church while the former man who held my job stayed on. He had been the minister of music at the church for 19 years and had just retired. I was to follow in his shoes. I had already heard the stories. He was revered and dearly loved. He was gregarious, winsome, talented and, did I say, dearly loved? Oh, and I was to follow him.
This man had been a true pioneer. He was one of the first full-time ministers of music in the Southern Baptist Convention, let alone the state. He had served for many years in great places. He had been the minister of music at First Baptist, Oklahoma City, when Herschel Hobbs had been pastor. I knew of the church and I had read about Dr. Hobbs. This man had been a charter member of the CenturyMen and had sung in the group for years. I had heard of the Music Metro Association and had been in awe of the group for my entire ministry to that point. And then I learned he had been one of the few that had started it. He was a pioneer. And he was still going to be on staff at the church as I was about to join.
Clif Baker was all these things and so much more. I served with him for 12 years prior to moving to Temple. I remember the first day I was in the office. It was empty. I had to go shopping for furniture. They had moved his out to his new office down the hall. I was sitting on a folding chair, trying to figure out what to do next. Clif came in, smiled at me, and gave me a blessing. He simply said, “you’re the new minister of music. I will always support you and be your best cheerleader. I will never tell you what to do. Never. You don’t have to worry about me. If there is anything that I can do for you, just ask. I’ll do what I can. I pray that you will enjoy it as much as I did.” And with that he turned and walked out the door.
He was always true to his word. For 12 years he was my cheerleader. He found choir members in the congregation and invited them to choir. He never sang with us, he always said he had retired from that role. But he never told me how to do it, either. Only one time did he walk through the door to my office before looking up and seeing me sitting at my desk. I knew that he had walked in by mistake, by habit. When he looked up and saw me, he was rather startled, but for only a fraction of second. He smiled, said good morning, and turned around and walked out the door. He only did that once.
When he retired from the music ministry, he became the adult minister. He never wanted to be called the senior adult minister. He spent his time at the hospital and visiting and contacting everyone on the church roll. If he hadn’t seen you in the past two weeks, he would give you a call to check up on you. If you were in the hospital, he was there before the doctor saw you in the morning. He took me visiting one morning, my first journey to Baylor Hospital in downtown Dallas. He told me to meet him at 7:30 AM. Because we still lived in Arlington at the time, if I were to do that, I would have had to leave the house at 6:00 AM. I did manage to get him to move it to 8:00 AM. When we went whisking around hallways and up and down elevators, I finally told him he better help me find my car or I would be lost forever. He knew the hospital like it was the back of his hand. He was the master visiter, however, always speaking a kind word and giving a much-needed smile. I remember when we stepped on a crowded elevator one morning at the hospital and he smiled, looked at the person closest to the buttons, and simply said, “Ladies shoes, please.”
Clif passed away this past Sunday afternoon. He was 89 years young. I can still hear him sing “Amazing Grace” and still see his smile. His children were around him and were singing and praying. Clifton, his son, read Psalm 23. They say when he got to verse 4, Clif simply slipped away. He would have wanted it that way. Into the arms of Jesus, calmly walking, taking the next step in the journey.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Psalm 116:15
Rest in peace, my friend, rest in peace.