We were all gathering in Washington, D.C., on the first day of the Baptist Joint Committee’s annual board meeting on that brisk, but bright, October morn. Steve Case — a board member representing American Baptist Churches USA — arrived early, as was his practice. He was in his element. He loved visiting with other board members, catching up with staff, and joking around and sharing stories with those gathered.
As I greeted Steve, I noticed the bow tie hanging — untied — around his neck. “Brent,” Steve said proudly, “I just joined the James Dunn Legacy Circle! But I don’t know how to tie the thing. Can you tie it for me?” I gladly performed that delicate maneuver, leaving it slightly askew indicating it was not a clip-on, and congratulated him on his membership. (The JDLC honors those who include the BJC in their estate plans. They receive a lapel pin and a custom bow tie patterned with the JDLC logo.) Steve proudly wore the tie throughout the day, and he continued to sport it into the evening as he dined with his American Baptist colleagues at one of his favorite D.C. restaurants, the Monocle on Capitol Hill.
None of us could have imaged or foreseen the tragic circumstances that would ensue on Tuesday morning when Steve fell down the steps of his Capitol Hill hotel and died two days later due to complications from the injuries suffered in the fall. Steve’s untimely death was shocking and heartrending. In my 26 years at the BJC, he was the only currently serving board member to die. I was privileged to participate in Steve’s memorial service several weeks later — along with BJC board members Curtis Ramsey-Lucas and Jeffrey Haggray — in his hometown of Mansfield, Pennsylvania.
Steve was simply an extraordinary person and exemplary BJC board member. We appreciate the contributions of all of our 42 board members, but let me tell you why Steve was exceptional.
He was a passionate advocate for social justice and religious liberty. I first met Steve when he would come to Washington periodically leading a group from Grace Baptist Church (which he pastored for 25 years in Westmont, N.J.) or the public policy working group of the New Jersey Council of Churches to lobby Congress on social justice and religious liberty issues. He later joined the BJC board and chaired the body for two years from 2007-2009.
Steve gave of himself to the Baptist Joint Committee. He and his wife, Diane, were regular donors to the BJC. And, they donated a beautiful pewter chandelier for our Center for Religious Liberty on Capitol Hill, which opened in 2012. In short, Steve put his money and his property where his mouth was.
Steve also created opportunities for BJC staff and others to speak and teach. He invited me to preach at his church at First Baptist Mansfield, scheduling the visit to coincide with the local Baptist association’s quarterly meeting (where I spoke that same afternoon). He also arranged a gig at Mansfield University, where I was able to reach out to students and faculty beyond Baptist life. He also proudly invited me to speak at meetings of American Baptist Churches of New Jersey and American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Steve also influenced other board members. Beyond his leadership as chair, he developed relationships and encouraged them, including new members as they came on the board. He served on a small group that conducted orientation programs for new board members. Pam Durso, Steve’s successor as BJC chair, said she was grateful for his belief in her and his encouragement. “Steve shaped the leader I would become and am becoming as executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, a position I assumed shortly before becoming chair of the BJC board,” she said. “And Steve’s influence has moved beyond the Baptist Joint Committee. By extension, his friendship and kindness has shaped the work that I do and has had significance for many Baptists …, but especially for women called and gifted for ministry.”
Mark Wiggs, Steve’s predecessor as board chair, told me how he saw firsthand Steve’s “deep and abiding commitment” to protecting and expanding religious liberty. “Steve was a gracious leader who employed a genuine pastoral touch in every aspect of his work with the BJC. I was honored to have him as a friend and colleague,” Wiggs reflected.
In addition to his passion for religious liberty, his commitment to the BJC and his influence on other BJC board members, Steve incarnated the love of God as he sought to grow in Christ-likeness.
May the peace of Christ that Steve now enjoys in glory be with all of us as the tears of sadness are transformed into smiles of gladness having known, served alongside and loved our friend Steve Case.
From the November/December 2015 Report from the Capital. Click here to read the next story.