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After a lifetime of "doing what Jesus did, until He comes again," Cora Anne Davis died Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006.
Davis was a pioneer of Christian social work. Her passion for the Lord and for serving others became the basis for her quest to integrate faith with professional social work.
"It just came naturally to me to put the two (theology and social work) together," Davis told an interviewer in March 2005. "I would look at a situation, and it would just make an inordinate amount of sense to me what they were saying, the whole thing about relationships, the whole thing about justice, what love really is."
Davis was born April 17, 1937 in Baskerville, Va. She was baptized at Ebenezer Baptist Church and dedicated her life to ministry at the age of 13. She grew up in the arms of Woman's Missionary Union (WMU), participating in women's mission activities throughout her childhood.
She attended Averett College, Danville, Va., in 1958, and later transferred to Westhampton College, in Richmond, Va., (1955-58), supported by WMU scholarships. It was in her junior year that she found her life's work when she enrolled in an "Introduction to Social Work" course.
"It was like somebody was singing my song," she remembered. "I just knew that was what I wanted to do."
Davis attended to the Carver School of Missions and Social Work, Louisville, Ky., (1958-60). From 1960 -1966 she was appointed by the Home Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention, to the Elkhorn Baptist Association's Baptist Center in Lexington, Ky. In 1966, Davis returned to Louisville, served on the ministry staff at Crescent Hill Baptist Church, and pursued a Masters of Social Work at University of Louisville's Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work.
Davis was one of the first female faculty members at Louisville's The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appointed in 1970. In 1984, she completed her Ph.D. in higher education from University of Louisville and became founding dean of the Carver School of Church Social Work at the seminary. Davis led her colleagues to develop the concept of "church social work" and educated generations of church social workers currently leading today's Baptist congregations, mission programs, and religiously affiliated organizations. In addition to her faculty role, Davis's sermons and writings urged Baptist churches to take seriously their social responsibility in the world and their obligation to provide community leadership for important social and ethical issues.
For Southern Baptist women seeking ministry positions through the 70s and 80s, Davis was a model and a source of encouragement (both written and verbal). She was a skilled preacher and the first woman dean in a Southern Baptist seminary. For social workers called to professional ministry, Anne Davis provided a model for integrating that calling with professional social work preparation.
In the prime of her career as an educator, Davis reflected upon three reasons why she gave her life to church social work: 1) she was imitating the life and model of Jesus, 2) she drew from scripture a "justice mandate" and "priestly mandate" that called Christians to serve others, and 3) she understood social ministries to be an "integral part of the nature of the church: that Christians were to do what Jesus did until He comes again."
Davis twice saw her beloved Carver School closed. But she had faith that God would allow her to continue the work to which she was called. In 1997, Davis launched a series of Bible studies called, "Come Go With Me." The following year she moved to Waco, Texas where some of her friends and former Carver School colleagues had settled. Davis served as Director of Operations for Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children, an agency directed by one of her former students. Davis also worked as a consultant to Baylor University School of Social Work, designing a new MSW curriculum to carry on the dream of social work education for the church that was deferred when Carver School was closed.
In 2003, struggling with health concerns, Davis retired. But she kept in touch with many students, colleagues and church workers who had been, and continue to be, touched by her ministry and leadership. She died in Waco at the age of 69.
Cora Anne Davis left a tremendous legacy for ministers and laypersons concerned about social ministry. She provided insightful theological reflections on what Scriptures have to say about helping relationships. She articulated a biblical basis for helping and a reminder that every Christian is called to minister to other human beings.
In 1979 Davis spoke of her motivation. "I am not in this work because of the needs of the world. I am in this work because I believe that as a Christian, I have no other alternative but to be in this work," she said. "You see, it's not because of the sad condition of the world that the church needs to minister; it is because it is inherent to the very nature of the church that it must do that, as bodies must breathe."
Alumni and friends of Dr. Davis have established the C. Anne Davis Endowed Social Work Scholarship in her honor in the Baylor School of Social Work. The scholarship funds will be awarded to promising women and men who are committed to the integration of Christian faith and social work practice. For more information, contact Baylor School of Social Work at (254) 710-6400.