In a gentle voice true to her northern Louisiana upbringing, June Richards said she was humbled by and grateful for the establishment of a scholarship that will bear her name at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The seed money for the June Richards Endowed Scholarship came from Dorothy Patterson, who wanted to honor Richards for her commitment to the Lord’s work as exemplified in her life as wife, mother and selfless partner in the work of her husband, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards.
“I am so grateful. I just teared up,” Richards said when she recalled Patterson privately telling her of plans for the scholarship during the 2010 SBTC Annual Meeting last November.
Somewhat taken aback by the recognition, Richards asked, “Who am I?”
But Patterson, professor of theology in women’s studies and wife of SWBTS President Paige Patterson, already had an answer. She was at the SBTC meeting to address the annual women’s luncheon. Knowing her audience was filled with pastors’ wives and women serving their churches and communities, Patterson seized the opportunity to encourage them by recognizing their often behind-the-scenes work?as typified by June Richards.
In a January letter addressed to Jim Richards, Patterson expounded upon her reasons for singling out his wife.
“She is the epitome of what I am trying to teach in my student wives class. ? I have attempted to prepare young women to be helpers and partners with their ministry husbands in the work of the Lord. Your June has certainly done that.”
Paige Patterson concurred: “June Richards embodies all those qualities that the Bible features as the classic understanding of biblical womanhood. As a consistent support and encouragement to her husband, a magnificent mother and a woman who walks close to the Lord, June Richards’ exemplary lifestyle is one that we honor here at Southwestern. Indeed, Mrs. Patterson has so profited from June’s life and witness that she really felt that we needed to honor June and help students in this way. Hopefully, Southwestern will graduate an army of young women who will follow in June Richards’ steps.”
The role of wife, encourager and prayer partner is a life Richards seemed to seamlessly assume after a “whirlwind” romance that began her first day of school at Baptist Christian College (now Louisiana Baptist University). That was the day she met Jim Richards. And, after just three dates, she accepted his proposal of marriage.
It was during those early days of marriage, school and childrearing that June said she would have appreciated the financial support of scholarships like the one being offered in her name. Especially gratifying is knowing the scholarship will help women called to ministry or wives of pastors, she said.
As her husband worked toward his advanced degrees, pastored for 21 years in Louisiana, preached revivals, and traveled to all 50 states and 19 countries, Richards readily took on a variety of roles to support and enhance those ministries.
She recalled serving as pianist, children’s director, bus captain (“When we had such things,” she said.), and Sunday School teacher?all while raising their three children and maintaining their home. Richards set aside her career as a grade school teacher to commit to full-time work as a mother and the wife of a pastor.
The role is not one that can be planned like a career after college.
Richards said if women “focus and die to self” they can discern the will of God. “I’m not trying to be pious or super spiritual. She will be able to say, ‘Yes, Lord’ and prepare herself. [She] will have such a servant’s heart,” she said.
Two women who most influenced and encouraged Richards were her mother, Ruth Swain, and mother-in-law, Betty Richards.
It was her mother who showed her, through example, how to be a lady and how to take her petitions to the Lord.
“She would speak out loud to the Lord,” Richards recalled.
As her mother was her spiritual mentor, Richards’ mother-in-law instructed her in the more practical matters of how to run a house and home. With the foundation of prayer and the framework of organization, Richards established a home that is a “haven from the rest of the world.”
Though she cannot speak individually to all those who will be recipients of the scholarship, Richards wanted to convey the very crucial nature of the role a woman accepts when she marries a pastor.
“A woman can make or break a man,” she said. Richards has had to keep many things private, especially any criticism she might have of her husband. Being publically critical of a pastor-husband can harm not only the marriage relationship but the husband’s relationship with his congregation. Even in private, Richards urged wives and wives-to-be to temper their criticism with kindness.
More often than not, Richards said, taking her concerns to the Lord in prayer first solved an issue before it became a problem.
For children brought up in a pastor’s home, Richards said, prayer cannot be overemphasized. Citing Job’s prayers and offerings to the Lord on behalf of his children, Richards said she prays God will protect her three adult children, her two sons-in-law, and her grandchildren from the distractions of this world.
It is through prayer that Richards most simply and dramatically assists in the ministries of her husband?ministries that she has made her own. Jim Richards has been the SBTC executive director since the inception of the convention in 1998. And though not a staff member, June Richards has taken on the job of praying for every convention staff member by name. She prays through each department, calling for God’s provision as they seek to do his work.
Knowing it will be wives and single women who will benefit from the June Richards Endowed Scholarship, Richards entreated all to seek God’s face, submitting their lives to him and the role God would have them play in the lives of others.
Mike Hughes, SWBTS vice president for institutional advancement, said in an e-mail statement: “The formulation of the June Richards Endowed Scholarship, as in many of our scholarships for women, is a unique way to honor the life and influence of the women in our lives while at the same time investing in the lives of tomorrow’s women who will continue that legacy.”
Once the endowed fund reaches $10,000, the scholarship will be awarded to women studying within Southwestern’s biblical homemaking program. If there is not a qualified applicant in that track any given year, the scholarship will be awarded to a woman studying in any other field at SWBTS.
Southwestern, Hughes said, welcomes all contributions to this endowed scholarship or the creation of new scholarships in an effort to honor the lives and legacies of others.