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Originally published July 4, 2012 at 7:48 PM | Page modified July 5, 2012 at 8:17 AM

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Obituary: 'Transformational' Rev. Rod Romney welcomed all spiritual paths

The Rev. Rodney Romney, senior minister of Seattle's First Baptist Church from 1980 to 2000, died Saturday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

For a man often described as introverted and sensitive, the Rev. Rodney Ross Romney is perhaps best remembered for his way with people and for standing firm for his convictions, even when they proved controversial.

The Rev. Romney, who served as senior minister of Seattle First Baptist Church on Capitol Hill from 1980 to 2000 and had a radio show that ran on Sundays on KIRO FM, welcomed a diverse array of people in his church, including people of different ages, races, sexual orientations and even spiritual paths.

"Rod gave people permission to be their own authentic selves," said David "Sky" Enroth, a member of Seattle First Baptist Church who says the Rev. Romney "was a transformational spiritual influence on my life."

What he learned from the Rev. Romney, Enroth said, was that people can work out for themselves what to believe and that, "It's the most important work that you can do in your lifetime."

The Rev. Romney, 81, died Saturday (June 30) at his home in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Born in Arco, Idaho, to Daniel Gaskell Romney, a miner, and Lois Taylor Romney, he was the third of three sons.

The Rev. Romney graduated from Linfield College and taught for several years. But, "I always knew he would become a minister," said longtime friend Verne Duncan. "There was always that in the back of his mind."

Eventually, the Rev. Romney graduated from Berkeley Baptist Divinity School and earned a Doctor of Ministry from the American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley, Calif.

It was Duncan who set his friend up on a blind date with the then-Beverly Wilcoxon, who eventually married the Rev. Romney.

She had moved to Arco, Idaho, to teach and at first didn't want to meet him.

"My first year there, all I heard was Rod Romney this and Rod Romney that," she recalled with a chuckle. "I was so tired of hearing about Rod Romney that when Verne said he wanted to introduce me, I said: 'I'm not interested.' "

It didn't take long after meeting him, though, for her to fall in love. They married in 1964.

"He was like no one else I had ever met," said Beverly Romney. "He has been the only love of my life. Other people have a first love. But he was my only love."

Her husband believed deeply in the dignity and worth of all people, she said, which meant affirming and including people from various walks of life, including the "various pathways by which people seek God." He was committed to peace and nonviolence and believed in the oneness of all creation.

Those beliefs sometimes caused controversy.

At Seattle First Baptist Church, Romney's support of gays and lesbians in the pulpit and pews brought a push from a regional group of the American Baptist Church to oust his church from the group. Eventually, Seattle First Baptist Church and other like-minded congregations formed another regional group within the same denomination.

The Rev. Romney had a "large spiritual footprint" — within the denomination and in Seattle, said the Rev. Tim Phillips, lead pastor at Seattle First Baptist Church. Through sermons, books and speaking engagements, "He was ... someone who stood for a progressive understanding of the Gospel."

After the Rev. Romney retired from Seattle First Baptist Church in 2000, he and his wife spent time at their home in Idaho Falls or their condo in Portland.

In the last few years, she said, "He was mine. It was what I'd always dreamed life would be."

In addition to his wife, the Rev. Romney is survived by his brother, Verl "Cec" Hansen, and sister, Dixie Lainhart, both of Idaho.

A service will be held at 11 a.m. July 13 at Baptist Community Church in Arco, Idaho. A local service will be at 2 p.m. Aug. 26 at Seattle First Baptist Church, 1111 Harvard Ave.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests remembrances be made to The Seattle First Baptist Church Romney Legacy Fund, 1111 Harvard Ave., Seattle, WA 98122 or to Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, 3534 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland, CA 94610 or to a favorite charity.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @janettu.

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