In the fireplace of life, Spangler is pure cedar. Cedar catches fire quickly and burns brightly. And so does Bob. His creative genius and burning enthusiasm will be greatly missed by all of us as he enters retirement." So wrote Robert Spangler's friend and associate Floyd Bresee in July 1990, just after Bob retired. Now the truth and poetic definitude of these words are felt with telling potency as we grieve Pastor Spangler's sudden accidental death early Friday morning, September 19, on California freeway 405.
In the short time since then many things have been said and written in an attempt to encompass the immense sense of loss, sorrow, admiration, and respect we all feel converging upon us in the light of what seems such a contradictory moment.
"A man has fallen in our midst," says Rex Edwards, "who was so absolutely unique, so many-sided, capable of so many kinds of leadership, so resourceful, so large of vision, so consecrated to his tasks, so inspirational in his leadership, and so tremendously devoted to his mission, that no man comes forward who is willing to be considered a possible substitute." David Newman, former Ministry editor and executive editor under Bob, expresses his thoughts this way: "Bob was one of the finest Christian gentlemen I have ever met. He was always gracious, always kind, always Christ-centered. He gave me much good advice and always encouraged me. He was one of the most positive people I have known. His heart beat with joy and love for the Lord Jesus Christ." These tributes certainly frame the perspective of hundreds, including the Ministerial Association of the General Conference.
J. R. Spangler came to the G.C. Ministerial Association in 1962 and gave the next 28 years of his life and service to pastors and pastoral families. He served 23 of those years as editor of Ministry magazine the longest tenured editor in the 70-year history of the magazine. He also served as secretary of the Ministerial Association from 1980-1985. But his primary interest in the association was the magazine. His conflict between trying to be effective as an editor and at the same time serve as secretary of the association led him to resign as secretary and focus his energies again on the editorship of Ministry.
During his service to the Ministerial Association, Bob instituted PREACH (Project for Reaching Every Active Clergy at Home). This plan has the visionary aim of sending complimentary subscriptions of Ministry to clergy of all denominations. This extended hand of fellowship continues today with around 70,000 pastors receiving this magazine all over the world. A great number of those who are reading these words would probably not be doing so were it not for the vision and initiative of this exemplary human being.
Another of his creative projects was the production and distribution of the book 27 Fundamental Beliefs, which has been given gratis to over 250,000 pastors and numerous libraries around the globe. He was convinced that the cross and the great centralities of God's redemptive action in Christ were central to the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists and had to be perceived and expressed that way. It was this belief that inspired the book and its circulation.
In all of this, Bob never neglected his consuming passion of proclaiming the gospel through evangelistic outreach. Bob delighted in conducting public meetings combined with field schools of evangelism wherever and whenever he had opportunity.
He was joined in his service to pastoral families by his wife, Marie, who was herself seriously injured in the recent accident that took Bob's life. Marie, along with the late Ellen Bresee, co-founded Shepherdess International, the entity of the G.C. Ministerial Association that encourages and nurtures pastoral spouses and families.
Following his retirement from the Ministerial Association, Bob continued to serve the church in a number of ways including coordinating dozens of evangelistic meetings throughout the former Soviet Union, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for such endeavors, chairing the coordinating board of the 1993 Moscow citywide crusade conducted by Mark Finley, spearheading the fundraising for a new Russian translation of the Scriptures, meeting with hundreds of It Is Written partners, and assisting with annual fund-raising for the PREACH project, which remained a priority in his mind right up to the last conversations the Ministerial Association staff had with Bob.
Will Eva remembers a moment in the early eighties when Bob met him outside the old General Conference building and invited him up to his office to discuss, to Will's surprise, the possibility of joining the editorial staff of Ministry. Although this did not work out at the time, this experience is illustrative of the beautiful gift Bob had of seeing things in people that they had not seen in themselves and of inducing them to share his perceptions.
Jim and Sharon Cress recall how they have relied on the counsel and encouragement Bob and Marie Spangler have personally provided them whenever they sought the Spanglers' input. "Bob prayed with us and for pastoral families every where." When recently Jim phoned Bob's home to express condolences to his daughters, the answering machine responded in Bob's own voice with his instructions to "leave a message" at the beep. And then he said at the conclusion of the message, "Remember, Jesus is coming soon." Vintage J. Robert Spangler!
With deep sadness and heartfelt condolence to his family and many friends worldwide, the General Conference Ministerial Association, along with the great family of Ministry readers, acknowledges and celebrates the vast contributions of Bob Spangler in the lives of pastors everywhere and the telling impact of his influence and leadership in the forward thrust of the church as a whole.