On the occasion of his 30th anniversary as pastor of Tulsa, First, some of Warren Hultgren’s young church members had the following observations of their beloved pastor:
“I like Dr. Hultgren because he reminds me of the Wizard of Oz.”
“I like Dr. Hultgren because he likes us, and I bet that isn’t always easy.”
“I like Dr. Hultgren because when it is raining, he is secure enough to roll his pants legs up before crossing Fourth Street on Sunday morning.”
“I like Dr. Hultgren because he talks to kids, not just to our parents.”
“I like Dr. Hultgren because he’s a cool dude.”
And these are just a few reasons the 6,000-member congregation had to admire their affable pastor, who served them for 35 years.
The brilliant man with an off-beat sense of humor, who died Nov. 14 in Tulsa at the age of 89, was an icon in Baptist life, serving as president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention and on the executive committee of the Baptist World Alliance.
Members of Tulsa, First while Hultgren was pastor say his teachings were intertwined with wit and a unique ability to speak on every man’s level.
An editorial in the Oklahoma Observer in 1992 stated that Hultgren “may be one of the finer statesmen produced by the Southern Baptist Convention in this century.”
Hultgren was noted for a mixture of compassion, dedication and a knack for doing the unexpected.
One of those unexpected things happened in 1976 when a man dressed as a woman walked up to Hultgren in the middle of his sermon and said the world was coming to an end. Hultgren responded with “I’ve been trying to tell them (the congregation) that for years. Maybe they’ll listen to you.” The man then took a gun out of his purse. He was subdued by deacons until sheriff’s deputies arrived and escorted him out of the church. Hultgren told the congregation to take three deep breaths and relax. Then he finished his sermon.
On another occasion, the staff of Tulsa, First treated their pastor to a surprise birthday celebration at McDonald’s “to improve Preacher’s image.”
Recovering from the initial shock, Hultgren told his staff, “This is the last supper. I’m glad to share it with all my former employees.”
Warren Curtis Hultgren was born in Minneapolis, Minn., and attended Bible college in Minnesota, Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas and Southwestern Seminary. At Tulsa, First, Hultgren officiated at 780 weddings and 2,100 baptisms. He traveled to more than 70 countries representing Southern Baptists and the Baptist World Alliance Executive Committee. He was a member of the Baptist Hymnal Committee; Over-View Committee as Reviewer for the Revised King James Version of the Bible; Walter Pope Binns Fellow, William Jewell College 1987; chairman, Board of Trustees, Baptist Sunday School Board 1988-1999; past president of National Conference of Christians and Jews and Chaplain of Navy League of the U. S., Tulsa Division. He was clinical member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists; a Fellow, Royal Geographical Society, Great Britain; member of the council of Baptist World Alliance; Knights of Malta and chaplain of the Grand Priory of Malta. He has been listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in Religion, received the National Humanitarian Award from the Institute of Human Relations, New York City, and was a member of the Tulsa Hall of Fame. He had a weekly TV show “The Pastor’s Study,” and also was a preacher on “The Baptist Hour” radio program. On the 75th anniversary of Tulsa, First, he shared the pulpit with Billy Graham and Tulsa evangelist Oral Roberts.
In retirement, he opened an office to help fired church staff members.
“Dr. Hultgren was a consummate gentlemen, articulate preacher of the Gospel and effective leader,” said Anthony L. Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “He leaves a great legacy of effective leadership among Oklahoma Baptists. His contribution to Oklahoma Baptist life marks our history. At the same time he led Tulsa, First to be one of the great downtown churches in America. I had the joy of knowing him personally. Dr. Hultgren had a wonderful sense of humor and winsome ways. I cherish the times we had together. He will be missed.”
The epitome of the good pastor and the good citizen, Hultgren’s legacy is not power, but humility, not control, but service.
“The single most important thing I’ve learned in my years of ministry is that no one ever has it made,” Hultgren said when the Warren C. Hultgren Chair of Ministerial Counseling was established at Southwestern Seminary.
“Everyone is wrestling at one level or another with some problem, frustration or aspiration. Everyone is hurting deep down inside. I’ve learned life is a growing, maturing experience. We will never really have it made until we stand before Christ complete.”
That defines Warren Hultgren.
He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Wanda; his daughter, Landa Hultgren Mabry, San Antonio, Texas; sons, Warren Jr., Tulsa, and Howard, Seattle, Wash; seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.