HOUSTON (BP)–Park Place Baptist Church in Houston has deeded its property to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Following a church-wide dinner provided by the seminary Dec. 11, pastor James W. Clark presented Southwestern President Kenneth Hemphill with a symbolic deed to the church’s property.
“The primary focus in making this decision was that it was a kingdom move,” Clark said. “We can accomplish more by giving this facility to Southwestern for the kingdom, long-term, than we would ever accomplish individually as a church.”
Southwestern will use the property and church facilities to establish Houston’s only free-standing seminary. The campus has been named the J. Dalton Havard Center for Theological Studies.
Havard founded the Havard Evangelistic Association and has contributed financially to the development of the new campus.
Hemphill accepted the deed from the church on behalf of the 63,000 students who have attended Southwestern since 1908. He then presented the church with a check for $50,000 to defray legal costs and begin the process of converting some classrooms for seminary use.
Hemphill thanked the congregation for their gift. “This is a miracle,” he said. “When you talk about ministry and missions, you have a vision that goes beyond most local churches.”
The church’s landmark decision to give its property away, Hemphill said, was similar to Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22. “God was saying, ‘I want you to take the most precious thing that you own and put it on an altar of sacrifice.'” He added, “This could be your Genesis 22 moment.”
Clark said he conceived the idea of providing a campus for the seminary’s Houston extension almost a year ago.
“I serve on the board of trustees at Houston Baptist University and also teach adjunctly for Southwestern. Because I was closely associated with both, I knew that the university was running out of space, and that Southwestern’s Houston extension would need to relocate.”
Clark, who has served the church for nine years, said he thought of his church as an ideal location for a new campus. Last August, the congregation offered its facilities to Southwestern.
The move benefits both Southwestern and Park Place, Clark said.
“I think the establishment of a free-standing seminary in Houston is going to be a significant step forward for the Southeast Texas campus.” Clark said. “It doesn’t require any further moves. They can use the facility indefinitely.
“For our church, this partnership does several things. It relieves us of the burden of caring for a facility of this magnitude, which will allow us to put more money and time into ministry. It will also create growth. The spiritual principle of sacrificial giving at this level, at this magnitude, is something God will bless.” Clark said.
After the dinner, the pastor addressed his congregation and thanked them for their commitment and courage.
“I need to let you know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that something of this magnitude could never be accomplished without the spirit, without the love, without the dedication that characterizes who we are as a church. Without our vision for being a center of ministry, without our vision for proclaiming hope for this city, without our vision to pass on to generations beyond us, this would not have happened.” Clark said. “This is a historic moment.”
Guy Cagel, minister of music at the church, echoed Clark’s comments. “I think as far as seeing Park Place being able to stay and minister in the community, they are all excited about this. The majority of congregants are excited about the next 20 years of ministry here.”
Cagel said that he, too, is excited. “What I hope will happen will be that we can use the seminary students as team evangelists to go out into some of these apartment complexes. We need help in getting out there in the streets and taking the gospel to where the people are. The community is our mission field.”
Coleman Ashlock, a member of the church since 1954, noted, “We were following God’s leadership when we gave the property to the seminary. We are looking forward to the students joining us here and working with us.”
Ken Smith, another member of the church for more than 40 years, called the deeding of the property to Southwestern “a life saver for our church, for the community.”
“Park Place has been a lighthouse in this area, but because demographics have changed, so has the ministry of the church.” Smith said. “We needed a change, and I think the Lord sent us one in Southwestern.”
Jim Eaves, who served as interim pastor at Park Place on two separate occasions, said he believes there is great potential for a church and seminary that use the same buildings.
“These are good, spiritually mature people,” Eaves said. “I think that the church will grow. They will impact the world. They will now impact hundreds of seminary students and many who have not heard the gospel.”
Southwestern Seminary’s vice president of institutional advancement, Jack Terry, vice president of finance, Hubert Martin, and dean of the Houston extension campus, James Spivey, also were present at the deed ceremony and dinner. Terry praised the church’s contribution to the kingdom of God.
“You are now family. You are now Southwesterners. Fifty percent of the missionaries serving on the field today are Southwesterners, so we say ‘the sun never sets on Southwestern.’ You are part of that now.”
The outlook for the Houston seminary is positive, Hemphill said. The Houston campus currently has 250 students enrolled. “Over the next four or five years, we believe, with God’s help, we could have 500 to 600 students on this campus,” he said. “But you are already larger here than most seminaries. If we grow to 500, you will be in a significant category.”
The average seminary in the United States has an enrollment of only 185, Hemphill said.
Southwestern Seminary has maintained an extension program for theological education in Houston for the past 26 years. In July, the Association of Theological Schools awarded the extension degree-granting status.
“In the past, Houston students had to go to the Fort Worth campus for at least one year of study in order to obtain a master of divinity or master of Christian education,” Spivey explained. “They had to graduate in Fort Worth. Now that the Houston campus has obtained the status of a degree-granting institution, a student can remain in Houston for his or her seminary education and then be awarded the degree here.”
Accreditation as a degree-granting institution by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools later this year will mean that undergraduate students also may complete the entire diploma studies program in Houston.
Tomlin is Southwestern’s news director. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: ‘MIRACLE’ GIFT.