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Clifford Minott Gilson, American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) alumnus, passed away on April 4, 2022, at the age of 93, at Penney Farms Retirement Community in Penney Farms, Florida.
Born on August 15, 1928 in Shillong, Assam, India, Clifford was the son of Rev. Frederick L. Gilson and Mrs. Hazel (Minott) Gilson, ABFMS missionaries to India. The Gilson family returned to the United States when Clifford was a very young child due to his mother’s ill health.
Clifford (Cliff) grew up in parsonages in Montana, Nebraska and California where his father pastored ABC churches. At the age of eleven Cliff felt ready for baptism and was baptized by his father. He had had an interest in being a missionary in early childhood. His attendance at Christian summer camps and assemblies over the years increased his interest in ministry.
Cliff studied at the University of Redlands in California for two years and then transferred to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois where he could live with his parents. Even as a student, Cliff kept up his varied church activities, which included teaching Sunday school, working with youth, and serving as state president of the Baptist Youth Fellowship (BYF). It was during his time at Knox College that he attended several Baptist conferences, culminating in a decision to become a minister. Following graduation in 1949, he deferred seminary training due to financial conditions and taught elementary school for two years in Oquaka, Illinois, while also being active in various programs of his church. Cliff went on to seminary at Colgate Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, New York. He was ordained in 1954 at the First Baptist Church of Fairport, New York, where he had served as a seminary intern with an emphasis on youth work.
Upon graduation from seminary in 1954, he became Minister of Education at Underwood Memorial Baptist Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. When the current pastor accepted another pastorate, Cliff acted in the capacity of Interim Pastor for a few months to complete his two years at the church.
In 1953, while in seminary Clifford participated in a Summer Service Project of the Baptist Youth Fellowship and the Home Mission Societies with the First Baptist Church of Las Vegas, Nevada. It was here he met Rosemary Farnum, who was also working on the project. Cliff and Rosemary were married two years later on July 2, 1955. In 1956, the Gilsons moved from Wauwatosa to Morris, Illinois where Cliff became the pastor of the First Baptist Church. It was in Morris that Cliff and Rosemary welcomed two daughters, Ruth and Lisbeth.
On November 9, 1959, Cliff and Rosemary were appointed by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) to serve in Burma. Following study at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut, the Gilson family sailed for Burma in 1961. The first task for Cliff and Rosemary was language study. They lived in the small town of Thonze. They especially enjoyed opportunities for working with the young people there. In the spring of 1962, the family moved to Rangoon where Cliff began his work with the Burma Baptist Convention. He was assigned responsibilities in the fields of Christian Education, curriculum development, leadership training, youth work, and evangelism. He particularly enjoyed teaching courses each year at the Burma Divinity School. During these years, the Gilsons welcomed a daughter, Mary and a son, David, to the family.
All ABFMS missionaries had to leave Burma in 1966. In September 1967, the Gilsons took on a new assignment as Chaplain at Kodaikanal School in South India where most of the 370 students were children of missionaries. His responsibilities included planning chapel services, organizing other religious activities, and teaching religion courses at the school. Cliff and Rosemary also became houseparents to 40 junior high boys for a brief period in one of the student boarding homes. In the summer of 1970, the Gilson family returned to the United States.
The family settled in upstate New York where Cliff pastored the yoked parish of the West Hoosick and Hoosick Baptist Churches. In 1982, the Gilsons moved to Lansdowne, Pennsylvania where Cliff was the pastor at the Lansdowne Baptist Church for nine years. In the succeeding years he served in a number of interim pastoral positions. During his pastorates, Cliff was active at the association level of each place, Capital Area Association in New York, and the Philadelphia Baptist Association in Pennsylvania.
In 2002, Cliff and Rosemary retired and moved to the Penney Retirement Community in Penney Farms, Florida. There he participated in the life of the community in a variety of ways. He sang in the Sanctuary Choir and Men’s Chorus. He also served as a chaplain with Penney Memorial Church, served meals in the Assisted Living Facilities, and was an active volunteer in the Hagen Care Center, a memory care unit. During their years of retirement, the Gilsons travelled to Burma five times as IM Volunteers. They also volunteered once in Thailand for two months.
Clifford is survived by his wife, Rosemary and his children: Ruth (Charles) Fox, Lisbeth (Donald, d.) Barnhouse, Mary (Ben) Wright, David (Suzanne Harrington) Gilson; 10 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister Winifred Ravenscroft.
A celebration of Cliff’s life will take place at a future time.
If you wish to share a memorial gift, the following are suggested:
Friends of Burma
548 Home Avenue
Ft. Wayne, Indiana 46807-1606
Penney Retirement Community
Resident Aid Fund
P.O. Box 555
Penney Farms, Florida 32079