Southern Baptist Sunday school leader, Harry Piland, dies

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Harry M. Piland, nationally known leader of Southern Baptist Sunday school work, died May 24 in Brentwood, Tenn., of brain cancer. He was 72.

Piland directed the Sunday school division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention (then called the Sunday School Board of the SBC) from 1978-94. Earlier, he served as minister of education at First Baptist Church, Houston, and University Baptist Church and James Avenue Baptist Church, both in Fort Worth, Texas.

During his tenure at LifeWay, enrollment in Southern Baptist Sunday schools increased from 7.3 million to 8.2 million.

"Southern Baptists have never had anyone more committed to Sunday school and church development than Harry Piland," LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. said. "Helping churches provide ways to teach God's Word was his passion. He has set a standard that shall challenge us for the rest of our lives. Only eternity will reveal the totality of the impact of his life. His friendship and his encouragement continue to strengthen me."

In an interview one month before his death, Piland expressed gratitude to God for 18 months of life after cancer surgery in October 1999.

"Never give up. There's always hope. We serve a God of hope," Piland said. "He is not only a supernatural God who does miracles, but he wants you to believe and have hope in him."

Stating that "the word 'retire' is not in my vocabulary," Piland left LifeWay in 1994 at age 65 to become associate pastor/minister of education at First Baptist Church of Dallas where he served until 1997.

Returning to the Nashville area, Piland continued to speak in churches and also served as an adjunct professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth.

Southwestern Seminary President Ken Hemphill called Piland "a friend, a colleague and a mentor. Harry gave me a passion for building an evangelistic Sunday school. Having Harry at Southwestern during his retirement years was a treat for faculty and students alike."

Piland is survived by his wife, Pat Piland, of Brentwood; one son, David Piland of Franklin; one daughter, Vicki Piland Wilson of Dallas; and five grandchildren.

A native of Austin, Texas, Piland was a graduate of the University of Texas and earned master's and doctor's degrees in Christian education from Southwestern Seminary.

The family has requested, in lieu of flowers, that contributions be made to the Harry M. Piland Memorial Scholarship Fund for Religious Education Students at Southwestern Seminary.


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HARRY PILAND.