By Kristina Campos Davis, director of Communications, Hardin-Simmons University
ABILENE—Saturday’s graduation at Hardin-Simmons University was a special event for many families, as more than 200 graduates received their diplomas for their bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. But, one degree, in particular, was very special, both for the University and the community. Dr. Phil Christopher, Abilene’s First Baptist Church pastor, was honored with an Honorary Doctorate Degree for his amazing influence on thousands of lives during his more than 40 years of ministry.
Dr. Christopher has been Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church since 1995. Since 2000, he has also served as Adjunct Professor at Hardin-Simmons University teaching Ethical Decision Making for Leaders in the Doctorate of Leadership program along with several courses at Logsdon Seminary. His outreach to the Abilene community also includes First Words, a televised daily devotional of encouragement.
Dr. Bob Ellis, Dean of HSU’s Logsdon Seminary, characterizes Dr. Christopher as possessing spiritual creativity, saying “he is able to get to this place of listening for the leading of the Spirit along with a wonderful openness to doing things creatively. Rather than rushing off to do everything in a conventional way, he’s open to fresh approaches to worship and serving Christ in and through the church.”
Dr. Christopher grew up in San Antonio, earning his high school diploma from Texas Military Institute, a private institution now known as TMI Episcopal. He attended Baylor University and, in 1972, received the Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology before moving to Louisville, Kentucky. There, he pursued a Master of Divinity degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, graduating in 1975. In 1986, he earned the Doctor of Ministry degree from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth.
Throughout his ministry, Dr. Christopher has advocated for ministers serving in the world. In 2014, United Way of Abilene recognized him as Volunteer of the Year. His community involvement also includes serving as Vice Chair of the Abilene Association of Congregations and sitting on the Board of Noah Project, a shelter for victims of domestic violence. He previously chaired the board of Abilene’s Eunice Chambless Hospitality House, sat on the Board of Trustees for Hendrick Medical Center, Abilene, and chaired the Baptist General Convention of Texas Ministerial Ethics Committee.
Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said “Phil is a leader of both strength and gentle heart. He has been a colleague who brings out the best in his co-workers by encouraging new depths of faith and commitment to Christ. Phil has been the steward of God’s love as he has accompanied church members across the many seasons of life, celebrating, grieving, and praying for wellbeing and peace.”
Phil’s wife, Dr. Mary Christopher, is Director of HSU’s Doctorate of Leadership program and of the Masters in Gifted Education program. In January 2018, they celebrated 42 years of marriage. Phil and Mary have two adult children. Jeremy and Caroline Christopher, live in Nashville, while Natalie and Andrew Abrameit live in Victoria, Texas, with their daughter – Phil and Mary’s first grandchild – one-year-old Mary Catherine.