Seminary luncheons draw alumni, guests

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Fellowship and campus updates highlighted the alumni luncheons hosted by Southern Baptist Convention seminaries June 24 during the SBC annual meeting in Louisville, Ky.

Following are reports from the luncheons. See accompanying Baptist Press story about events related to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's sesquicentennial celebration June 24.

GOLDEN GATE -- Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary honored three alumni with the distinguished alumni award June 24 at the seminary's alumni and friends luncheon in Louisville, Ky.

In keeping with the recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the seminary's Northern California campus, the first of three alumni to receive the award was Lewis Davis, a 98-year-old retired missionary and church planter from Mena, Ark.

Davis, who was a member of Golden Gate's first graduating class in 1949, wasn't able to travel to Louisville, so Tom Jones, Golden Gate's vice president of institutional advancement, presented the award at Lewis' home church, First Baptist Church in Mena, Ark., on June 7.

At the luncheon, Jeff Iorg, the seminary's president, told about Lewis being appointed in 1962 by the then-Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) of the SBC as the first Southern Baptist missionary to the Sioux nation.

After 30 years, at age 65, he retired from mission work and went on to start four churches in South Dakota. During his career he planted 24 churches in California, Washington, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota.

Iorg said Davis attempted another retirement at age 75 but soon accepted the pastorate at Rapid Valley Baptist Church in South Dakota, where he had previously served. There he led the 350-member church to complete a building program and become debt-free.

On his 87th birthday, Davis retired from the ministry for the third time, and at 95 years of age he wrote and published his 467-page autobiography, "My Memoirs: The Tapestry of a Life."

The second recipient of Golden Gate's distinguished alumni award was Max Kell, a 1958 graduate. Kell, a native of Washington, pastored El Camino Baptist Church in Sacramento for 29 years and now is pastor emeritus.

"This is a tremendous honor to be chosen out of the hundreds of Golden Gate graduates," Kell said. "Thank you for this tribute."

Kell served in several denominational capacities during his career, including vice president of the California Southern Baptist Convention, moderator of the Sacramento Southern Baptist Association and member of the steering committee for two Sacramento Billy Graham crusades.

"Max is known as a man of prayer as well as an evangelist," Iorg said. "We are delighted to recognize him as an example of the dedicated focus we hope all Golden Gate graduates will have."

The third distinguished alumni award was given posthumously to Sid Smith Jr., a native Texan who earned a master of religious education degree from GGBTS in 1968. Smith died in April at age 65. Accepting the award on his behalf was his son, Sid Smith III, who is a student at Golden Gate.

"Sid Smith Jr. was a Southern Baptist African American pioneer," Iorg said, noting that Smith served for more than 40 years in a Southern Baptist denominational role, longer than any other African American leader.

Sid Smith "left a legacy of a faith-filled leader who had deep convictions about his faith in God as well as his culture and the African American church," Iorg said. "Dr. Smith will be remembered as a powerful and strong mentor of many who are serving in denominational ministries for the Southern Baptist Convention."

Also at the luncheon, Iorg reported on the work of the five-campus seminary, particulaly amid a down economy; the 50th anniversary celebration of the Northern California campus; and positive feedback from the reaccreditation team and the extended planning process which has resulted in the Diamond Plan, a blueprint to guide the seminary through its 75th anniversary in 2020.

MIDWESTERN -- R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told MBTS alumni and friends that this marks the fourth year in a row the seminary has had more than 1,000 students enrolled in classes.

"Our facilities are looking great. We are near completion of 16 new apartments which will afford a family friendly setting for our students," he said. "We're also extremely close to finishing renovations to our education building. We've upgraded the classrooms in looks and technology, and downstairs we've doubled the size of our LifeWay bookstore and kept the student lounge area intact as well."

Roberts also announced plans for a new chapel, library and administration complex.

"We desperately need new chapel space," Roberts said. "The chapel can currently hold 350 people comfortably, but there are times when we have crowds of over 600 for events. We also need room to expand our library so we can properly display our Spurgeon Library and Morton–Seats archaeological collection."

Four people were named alumni of the year. Michael Catt, pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., and a former Midwestern student, was honored for inspiring his church to produce movies that have impacted the world, most notably "Fireproof." Catt challenged alumni to live for the glory of God.

"We must think of how the time we're given can be used to further God's Kingdom," Catt said. "The spire at Midwestern stands as a witness and says, 'We're still here. We're still working to make a difference and change lives for Christ.'"

Fred Harner, who graduated in 1970 with a master of divinity degree, was recognized for 37 years of service as a church planter and missionary to Brazil. Don McMurray, who graduated in 1993 with a doctor of ministry degree, was honored for 25 years as a pastor and as director of missions for the Greater Dayton Baptist Association in Ohio.

Also, Fred Winters, who graduated in 1991 with an M.Div., was honored posthumously for his years of service as pastor of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill. Winters was killed by a gunman while preaching in March and was lauded by Midwestern as a servant who was faithful to the end. Winters' wife Cindy accepted the award and received a standing ovation.

Two supporters of Midwestern who have sought to share the message of Christ in creative ways were named honorary alumni of the year. G. Richard Hastings, leader of an 11-hospital health care system in Kansas City, Mo., was honored for his endowment of an academic chair and an institute at Midwestern for the study of biblical origins.

Billy Kim, pastor emeritus of Suwon Baptist Church in Korea and leader of the Far East Broadcasting Company, was honored for translating Billy Graham crusades for more than a million Koreans and for 46 years of shepherding his church.

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary honored longtime pastors Gene Henderson and Jimmy Jackson with distinguished alumni awards during the seminary's alumni and friends reunion June 24.

Seminary President Chuck Kelley praised the work of Henderson and Jackson as pastors and commended them on their work as Southern Baptist leaders on the local, state and national levels.

Henderson earned master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees at New Orleans Seminary. After pastoring six churches in Mississippi and Louisiana from 1962-86, Henderson was called to serve at First Baptist Church in Brandon, Miss. He led the church for 19 years.

Henderson now serves as a church consultant and board member at Transformation Jackson, a faith-based community development in Jackson, Miss., and he often serves as interim/transitional pastor for Baptist churches in his state.

"We are so proud of you, my friend," Kelley said to Henderson. "Thank you for a life of ministry for our Lord."

Kelley then presented the alumnus award to Jimmy Jackson, pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., a church he has served since 1978. Before accepting the call to Whitesburg, Jackson served 13 years as pastor of churches in Alabama and Florida.

"Dr. Jimmy Jackson is known as great preacher, as a great soul winner and he is very involved in Southern Baptist work," Kelley said. "He has been a faithful steward to God, preaching God's Word and telling people about Christ."

Jackson, who earned bachelor of divinity and doctor of theology degrees at New Orleans Seminary, is the current president of the Alabama Baptist Convention. He also serves on Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's trustee board and on the board of regents at the University of Mobile.

During his brief update to alumni, Kelley said New Orleans Seminary students are breaking a national higher education trend by taking more credit hours per student this year than in the past. Across higher education, students have been taking fewer courses due to increased work loads, higher education costs and other factors.

The seminary is helping students break the trend, Kelley said, by creating new and innovative ways to deliver theological education. The new training options, which Kelley calls a ministry training cafeteria, make theological education available to more people and offer more scheduling options.

"We have this passionate conviction to make theological education as accessible as possible to as many people as possible," Kelley said. "The ministry training cafeteria is wide open for business."

Kelley also thanked Bill Taylor, director of the Unlimited Partnerships, for his work in strengthening churches in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and for developing training opportunities for seminary students. Taylor's Unlimited Partnerships program places NOBTS students in New Orleans-area churches as ministers of evangelism and discipleship. Taylor raised money to fund the program and student participants receive a significant scholarship.

SOUTHEASTERN -- The day after the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force motion passed at the Southern Baptist Convention, Presidents Jerry Rankin of the International Mission Board, Johnny Hunt of the SBC and Daniel Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary addressed the seminary's alumni and friends luncheon June 24.

Rankin spoke first, giving thanks to Southeastern for producing men and women who are sold out for the Gospel message, many pledging to serve Christ with their lives as international missionaries.

"I would just like to express my appreciation for the missions-focused seminary that Southeastern is," Rankin said. "We are so grateful for your partnership and what you're doing for missions. What a joy it is for the IMB to have a partnership with Southeastern, which is calling students to the global mission task."

Because of a lack of funds, the IMB will have to suspend sending any new short-term missionaries through the International Service Corps or Masters programs, but Rankin said they would not be suspending the 2+2 program, which is a partnership between the IMB and a Southern Baptist seminary in which students undertake two years of full-time study on campus and two years of international missions service.

"We're not touching the 2+2 program. We're keeping that going. We anticipate a radical increase in that program as the only option for short-term missions," Rankin said.

"When I see students hit the ground overseas, already trying to plant a church, I can assume that student is a graduate of Southeastern Seminary. Thank you so much for this partnership."

Hunt, a Southeastern graduate and a key figure in the Great Commission Resurgence movement among Southern Baptists, echoed his appreciation for Southeastern as well as his joy at God's grace in passing the motion the previous night.

Hunt said he was reminded of Caleb, who held on to the dream God had given him for Hebron for 40 years.

"I desire to have a ministry and mission like Caleb," Hunt said. "God has shown me that it's not about having our way, it's about having the way."

Although Caleb faced opposition in taking possession of Hebron, the land he believed God gave him, Caleb held on to his dream and kept fighting the fight for Hebron -- the land of plenty.

"What he basically said is, 'I still have fight in me. I still want Hebron,'" Hunt said. "How difficult was it for Caleb to keep that dream alive for 40 years? He decided he would never allow the people to have his dream.

"What happens to every Southern Baptist pastor is they allow people to steal their dream. Don't let anybody steal your dream. God gave it to you. Keep it sacred. I want to encourage you to be a Caleb," Hunt said.

Akin, the final speaker to address the luncheon and author of the booklet "Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence," said he often is asked what the big plan is.

"The grand plan is this: Let's get the Gospel to the nations and to the 1.6 billion who have never heard the name of Jesus," Akin said. "Let's get the Gospel to the great cities in America where people are flooding in droves. The bottom line is not to take over anything or dismantle anything -- it's to be as passionate as we can possibly be for the Great Commission."

Such passion, Akin said, is what drives the seminary he leads and the convention he is a part of.

"I think we saw last night [when SBC messengers approved a Great Commission task force June 23], by the glorious and gracious hand of God, Southern Baptists come together in humility. It revealed what is at the very heart of God, which is the fulfillment of His Great Commission.

"I believe God orchestrated the events of last night that resulted, with energy and excitement, with the appointment of a task force," Akin said. "It will result in even more passion in getting the Gospel to the nations. I am so excited to be a Southern Baptist. I really do believe there is a new, pulsating energy moving throughout the SBC, and I am excited to be a part of it."

SOUTHWESTERN -- Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary welcomed more than 250 alumni and friends to a luncheon during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention June 24.

The seminary honored a Baptist state paper editor with the distinguished alumnus award in addition to hearing a president's report and electing alumni association officers.

Southwestern presented Gary Ledbetter, communications director and editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, with this year's distinguished alumnus award. Ledbetter received his master of divinity degree from Southwestern in 1981.

"As I have gotten further away in years from my time at Southwestern, I have become more aware of the impact that it made on my life," Ledbetter said. "I live in gratitude for those who added to my life and prepared me for ministry at Southwestern. Even the ones that I would not want to be professors at Southwestern today added something to my life."

Ledbetter also expressed appreciation to the churches, faculty and graduates who have invested in Southwestern and subsequently invested in his life.

"It's the alums of Southwestern who make a Southwestern degree worth having," Ledbetter said.

Ledbetter also thanked his friends and coworkers at the SBTC, including Jim Richards, the convention's executive director.

Ledbetter earned a doctor of ministry degree and served as vice president for student development at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1995-2001. He spent 25 years in student ministry, serving in churches in Arkansas, Texas and Indiana. While in Indiana, he served as the state convention's director of communications and student ministry and was editor of the Indiana Baptist newspaper from 1989-95.

Ledbetter recently published "The Day of Small Things 1998-2008," a book documenting the history of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Paige Patterson, Southwestern's president, shared with alumni what God is doing through Southwestern. Despite difficult economic times, he praised God that the institution remains debt-free and is able to keep tuition rates from increasing when many institutions have been forced to do so.

"In the process of all of this, we have not only been able to keep the doors open but [we have] a thriving situation in which we continue to grow," Patterson said.

Patterson noted two seminaries across the Atlantic with which Southwestern is partnering. In 2005, Southwestern adopted Bibelseminar in Bonn, Germany, as an extension center to provide a master's-level program in theology for the institution.

Southwestern also is part of an effort to establish a school in the Central Cathedral in Seville, Spain. The former monastery became the center of the Protestant Reformation in Spain when a series of pastors read the Scriptures, were converted to Christ and became expository preachers.

Many of the writings of these pastors, including some on the issue of expository preaching, have remained untranslated since that time, but Southwestern has joined the efforts to translate them into English.

"What an exciting time to be at Southwestern Seminary," Patterson said.


Based on reports by Phyllis Evans of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Pat Hudson of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Gary D. Myers of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Lauren Crane of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Keith Collier of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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