Potts led the state convention from 1984 until his retirement in 1990. He had been pastor of McElwain Baptist Church in Birmingham 21 years before joining the State Board of Missions as director of church ministries in 1970.
Rick Lance, executive director of the mission board, said in a statement to The Alabama Baptist newspaper, "I join the family of Alabama Baptists in mourning the passing of one of God's great ambassadors. His life was rich in relationships and he left an indelible impression upon us as Alabama Baptists with his legacy of leadership."
"Earl Potts was a salt-and-light type influence on people, pouring himself into the ministry of others in an intentional way," Lance said. Potts "brought wisdom and grace" to the position, the current exec said. "His wise leadership and his graceful servant heart were evident during those years as executive director."
Potts' wife Louise died of cancer in 1984, within a month after he was appointed as the convention's executive director. "Potts faced his new duties without his spouse, but moved forward with courage and faithfulness to his calling," his funeral home obituary stated.
Potts' son David is president of Judson College, a convention-affiliated college in Marion, Ala. Potts also is survived by a daughter, Libby, two granddaughters and four great-grandchildren.
As executive director of the Alabama convention, according to his obituary, Potts' achievements included "establishing disaster relief, fostering of a significantly strengthened Alabama Baptist Historical Commission (including the appointment of the first woman to serve as an agency head), substantially improving funding the retirements of Baptist ministers, strengthening human relationships across previous boundaries, and the reorganization of ministries at the State Board of Missions to more effectively serve the 'Great Commission' purposes."
He was a native of Randolph County, Ala., and a 1946 graduate of Howard College (now Samford University), another convention-affiliated college in Birmingham. He earned his divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in 1949.
He had made a profession of faith in 1931 at Shawmut (Ala.) Baptist Church and was ordained to the ministry there in 1939.
As an Alabama pastor, in addition to McElwain Baptist Church, Potts had led New Hope Baptist in Fredonia, Union Grove Baptist in Crossville and Mt. Hebron Baptist in Collinsville, and he was on the staff at Woodlawn Baptist in Birmingham.
At Samford, Potts served as director of ministerial placement and as an adjunct faculty member of the Beeson Divinity School. In 1993, he was among the founders, with then-Auburn University President Wilford Bailey and historian Wayne Flynt, of The Alabama Poverty Project (now called Alabama Possible), a 501(c)3 organization that seeks, according to its website, "to educate communities and develop solutions that reduce systemic poverty in Alabama."
Potts served in recent years on the Alabama Baptist Historical Commission and wrote a book, "By the Grace of God: Memoirs and Recollections of an Alabama Baptist," in 1997.
A Dec. 27 article in the Birmingham News said Potts was "known for compromise and efforts to be fair to all sides in the denomination's theological controversy, and was credited with helping Alabama avoid some of the bitter acrimony that was common in other state conventions."
The newspaper also described Potts as "a moderate leader who helped turn back efforts by conservatives to reduce funding to Samford in 1994 after the school voted to elect its own trustees."
In 1998, Potts voiced opposition to amending the Baptist Faith and Message to more clearly strengthen its stance on the family. Potts, whose daughter was divorced, believed the revision to the BF&M, as phrased by the Birmingham News, "was insensitive to those who did not fit the ideal of family set forth by the statement. Potts favored an amendment that would have taken into consideration single-parent families, and widows and widowers."
Potts' funeral service will be Friday, Jan. 3, at McElwain Baptist Church. The family asks that memorial contributions, in lieu of flowers, be made to Alabama Baptist ministries, the A. Earl Potts Scholarship at Judson College or the Louise Green Potts Scholarship through The Baptist Foundation of Alabama.
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston from reporting by The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention, and the Birmingham News.
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