NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Jerry Barlow, dean of graduate studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, called it “the story behind the story” of the 91st commencement ceremony at the school Dec. 13.
But it was more than a story when a doctoral hood was draped across the shoulders of Charlie Ray III. A centuries-old academic tradition, it also was a celebration of one family’s heritage of faith.
Ray III became the third generation of his family to earn a doctoral degree from NOBTS when he received the doctor of philosophy in New Testament. His father, Charles Ray Jr., a member of the seminary faculty, earned his doctorate in New Testament in 1983. His grandfather, Charles A. Ray Sr., earned his doctorate in church history in 1958.
Saturday’s commencement marked the first time that three generations of one family have earned doctoral degrees at NOBTS. But in keeping with the seminary’s tradition, which combines practical ministry with academic excellence, all three generations not only excelled in the classroom but have served as pastors.
Charles Ray Jr. baptized his son. On Saturday, he watched him reach another milepost in his pilgrimage of faith.
“It’s just neat. It’s an exciting time for his mother and I,” Ray said.
For Charles Ray Sr., 86, the joy of the moment was clear. Ray pastored churches in Mississippi and later helped take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, serving English-speaking churches in Japan and Thailand and teaching English in China. Following in his father’s footsteps, Ray Jr. taught at a Korean seminary.
“We’ve been all over the world,” Ray Sr. said. “I’m disappointed in that I’ve lived this long and made so little dent on the world’s history. I hope these later generations make a whole lot more contribution than my generation has made.”
But Charlie Ray III, pastor of Grace Memorial Baptist Church in Gulfport, Miss., praised his parents and grandparents for their willingness to be used by God and for their influence on his life.
“I am who I am because of them and how they lived their lives,” Ray III said. “I was never pressured by them, but I was influenced by their example.”
Ray III, who holds an undergraduate degree from Baylor University and a master’s degree from NOBTS, could have gone anywhere for graduate work, but he returned to New Orleans.
“I wasn’t born here, but the city and especially the seminary campus feel like home,” Ray III said.
Ray Sr., a World War II veteran who served for 50 years as a pastor, retiring in 1995, could not stop smiling at this family milestone.
“They’re good kids,” he said of his son and grandson.
Paul F. South is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.