18 April, 2021

Sam E. Stone: ‘A Steel Hand Inside a Velvet Glove’

by | 27 January, 2021 | 2 comments

Former Christian Standard editors Mark A. Taylor (left) and Sam E. Stone in 2018. Sam, who retired in 2003 after serving as editor for 25 years, died on Jan. 25.

My Memories of Colleague, Teacher, and Friend, Sam E. Stone

By Mark A. Taylor

Ralph Small, vice president and publisher at Standard Publishing, called me into his office in 1977 to tell me he was considering Sam Stone to follow Edwin Hayden as editor of Christian Standard. I still remember his description of Sam, “A steel hand inside a velvet glove.” It’s an apt metaphor for a Christian leader driven by unyielding Christian conviction who led a fellowship of churches by advocating strong principles as he demonstrated unfailing love.

Sam held the editor’s chair from January 1978 till February 2003, a tenure longer than anyone else in the magazine’s 154-year history. He traveled all over the globe in those years, as president of the North American Christian Convention, as a main speaker at men’s retreats and state conventions and missionary rallies, and as the guest preacher at hundreds of local churches. Not long before he retired, I walked with him one day through the halls of the center where the National Missionary Convention (now International Conference on Missions) was being held. We made little progress as person after person, attendees from across the country and around the world, stopped us to greet Sam warmly.

It was Sam’s goal to keep the pages of Christian Standard open to everyone in the Christian churches and churches of Christ. If he knew a writer’s position would displease one segment of his readers, he often invited someone from their ranks to publish a counter opinion. Perhaps no one among us was more widely known or respected. If you dared to label one college or convention or group of congregations as either “liberal” or “conservative,” you would find Sam’s friends among all of them. He had guts, but no guile. Few would have called him their enemy, but even his adversaries did not receive unkind criticism from Sam.

I am one of many who owe Sam for his personal influence. I enrolled in and learned from his classes in Christian writing at Cincinnati Bible Seminary. I served as a part-time student youth minister in my college years where Sam preached at Western Hills Church of Christ in Cincinnati. I learned how to preach by listening to his sermons there week after week. He was my friend across the aisle in most of the time I served as editor of The Lookout at Standard Publishing. Later I was promoted to become his superior on the Standard organizational chart for a while until I became his successor as editor of Christian Standard. In all those relationships I saw Sam’s hard work, eagerness to encourage, and wry humor.

He would write funny poems about the guest of honor at church staff birthday lunches. (He made them up and jotted them on an index card as he drove back to the church from teaching at the college.) He greeted me with a wheelchair to push me to my surprise 50th birthday celebration in the Standard offices. He saved good jokes and found ways to use them as pointed punctuation for his sermons.

Some time after the death of his beloved wife, Gwen, he moved to an apartment at Christian Village at Mason, north of Cincinnati. When he died earlier this week, the nursing supervisor sent a customary note to all the Village staff, informing them of his passing. Christian Village president Larry Monroe said these notifications are usually straightforward and objective, but this one was filled with warm accolades from this supervisor who felt she had lost a friend. “And we had responses from staff members throughout the facility,” Larry added. “Everyone from housekeepers to maintenance workers to nurses wrote to speak of Sam’s kindness and goodness to them.”

We have archives of Christian Standard to remember the steel strength of Sam’s faithfulness to the Bible. We have cherished personal memories to remind us how that fidelity played out with the touch of his velvet glove in our lives. We celebrate all of it and hold it dear. Blessed by his example, we are still learning how to demonstrate keen conviction with an equally irenic spirit. We’ve had no better teacher than Sam.

Mark Taylor was editor of Christian Standard after Sam Stone’s retirement in 2003 until his own retirement in 2017.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mark, you have “nailed” the experience so many had with Sam Stone. EVERY time I saw him he had a kind word, a pointed comment, and a question about my ministry. Never a belittling comment, but plenty of challenge. Knowing him as dean, professor, and preacher, I will remember Gwen and him as treasured friends!

  2. Avatar

    Thank you, Mark, for this wonderful tribute to Sam. In my mind I will forever see him coming down the hallway from his apartment at The Christian Village at Mason, walking toward me with his thumb in the air as he passed the construction site where the Stone Center Auditorium is being built. He knew the Stone Center would allow us reach more people for Christ and better serve the residents in our community. He turned the first spade of dirt at our groundbreaking. Sam was a constant source of encouragement to me and to every team member who served him in our ministry. What a privilege it was to have him with us as he finished life’s journey well to join his Savior in eternal rest and reward.

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