Jess Moody, Visionary Pastor and Founder of Palm Beach Atlanta College University, Dies at 93

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP) — Jess Moody, a visionary evangelistic pastor who influenced the fields of education and the film and TV industry, died Friday, Dec. 7, in West Palm Beach, Fla. He was 93.

Moody was the founder of Palm Beach Atlanta College (now University) in West Palm Beach in 1968 and later, in the Los Angeles area, a witness to Hollywood.

He also was one of three nominees for Southern Baptist Convention president in 1992. He served as the 1965 president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference and addressed its sessions in 1964 and 1972.

William M.B. Fleming Jr., Palm Beach Atlantic’s president, said in a Dec. 8 tribute to Moody on PBA’s website, “As the University celebrates its 50th year, we give thanks for a giant of a Christian crusader, a Bible preacher, a visionary dreamer and our founding president.

“Dr. Moody’s mark is on every Palm Beach Atlantic graduate and student. His sweet love and unlimited devotion to young people is legendary. Stories will continue to be written and told about Dr. Jess Moody, a servant for all seasons and all mankind.”

Moody led in PBA’s creation while serving as pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach (now Family Church) from 1961-1976. He concurrently served as PBA president from 1968-1972.

The university, which was affiliated with the Florida Baptist Convention for a number of years, now has 3,706 students in undergraduate and graduate courses in West Palm Beach, at a campus in Orlando and online.

Moody and his wife Doris initiated PBA’s “Workship” program requiring all 2,000-plus full-time undergraduate students to volunteer at least 45 hours annually at nonprofit agencies, schools or churches.

A 7-foot statue of Moody was placed on the campus during ceremonies in April 2011.

Moody left West Palm Beach in 1976, turning his sights to California as pastor of the Los Angeles-area First Baptist Church in Van Nuys. He led the church into cooperation with the SBC “after considerable resistance,” as described by the Los Angeles Times in a 1997 article. In the move, “many members left the church.”

In the mid-1980s, Moody led the church to relocate to Porter Ranch, Calif., and its renaming as Shepherd of the Hills Church.

“Jocular and garrulous, Moody attracted a number of entertainment figures to his church,” the Times’ 1997 article noted. “He performed the wedding of actor Burt Reynolds and actress Loni Anderson. The annual Passion Play at Shepherd of the Hills draws thousands every Easter.”

He was a religious consultant for 20th Century Fox, an article in MissionsUSA of the SBC Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) reported in 1984.

The church created an Act I ministry in 1982 that grew to about 125 actors, directors, producers and others in the film industry, according to MissionsUSA. Act I’s meetings included presentations by such LA luminaries as producer-writers Harry and Linda Thomason, two-time Academy Award-winning composer Al Kasha and radio disc jockey Rick Dees.

Phil Boatwright, a veteran movie reviewer for Baptist Press and other media who was a member of the church from 1977 until Moody’s retirement in 1995, described an example of Moody’s influence involving the re-filming of a major motion picture.

“In 1976 Hollywood had a hit with ‘The Omen,’ about the coming of the Antichrist. As Hollywood is prone to do, they made several follow-ups,” Boatwright recounted in written comments to BP. “The producer (or director, I can’t remember which) of the 1981 sequel ‘The Omen II: The Final Conflict,’ concerning an adult Antichrist plotting to eliminate his future divine opponent, showed a rough-cut to Dr. Moody.

“Doc [as Boatwright called Moody] praised the production’s strengths, but made it clear the sensationalized conclusion wasn’t scriptural. Due to Moody’s kindness and scriptural knowledge, the filmmaker said, ‘If you’ll rewrite the ending, I’ll film it.’ Doc did. The producer did. And to this day I tell people, skip through the film to get to the ending. It’s spiritually rewarding. (I wouldn’t bother with the rest of the film.)

“Knowledge and kindness. That’s part of the armor we should all cloth ourselves in. Doc did.”

Boatwright noted “Moody’s appreciation for every soul. Like our beloved Billy Graham, Jess had a love for the lost and a great ability to make each person feel important. When these men said, ‘God loves you,’ you felt it, you believed it.”

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Source: Baptist Press