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Founder’s descendants visit GGBTS as ‘dream’ in the West is celebrated

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–“A Dream Come True” describes Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary as it marks 59 years of preparing Christian leaders for the West and the world, President William O. Crews said in a chapel service marking Founders Day.

“Golden Gate Seminary exists and thrives today because of a compelling dream, articulated by visionary leaders and pursued by literally hundreds of men and women who have given their lives to the pursuit of that dream,” Crews said April 10 at the seminary’s Mill Valley, Calif., campus.

Crews paid special tribute to the seminary’s founder, Isam B. Hodges, a native of Viola, Ark., who came to California in 1935 and became pastor of Golden Gate Baptist Church in Oakland in 1937. He founded the seminary in 1944 and served as its president until 1946. Hodges died in 1967 in San Leandro.

Several members of the Hodges family were special guests for this year’s Founders Day: Harlan Hodges, a son, and Beatrice Lucille Hill, a daughter; grandsons Joe Hill and Brad Hodges; and granddaughters Linda Bernhardy and Harlene Hourany.

Also honored were retired seminary faculty members and family including Dan Boling, Jerry Stubblefield, G.W. Schweer and Shirley Harrop, widow of Clayton Harrop.

Benjamin O. Herring, a former professor at Baylor University in Texas, was the seminary’s president from 1946-52, and during his tenure the seminary moved from the Oakland church to a building in Berkeley. In 1950, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted the seminary, providing a solid financial footing. Harold K. Graves was Golden Gate’s president from 1952-77, leading the seminary during a period of major growth, including a move from Berkeley to Strawberry Point in Mill Valley, where he purchased 150 acres of magnificently scenic land once considered as the site for the United Nations headquarters for $425,000.

William M. Pinson Jr. and Franklin D. Pollard led the seminary, from 1977-82 and 1983-86, respectively. Crews took over the seminary leadership in 1986 and has spearheaded the growth of four other Golden Gate locations in the West — in Southern California, Washington state, Colorado and Arizona.

The seminary has also created ethnic leadership centers, enrolling more than 600 students, in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Arkansas.

“Baptists sent their first missionaries to California in late 1848 when the Rev. and Mrs. Osgood C. Wheeler were enlisted by the American Baptist Home Mission Society to go to San Francisco and plant a Baptist witness in the West,” Crews recounted. “While they were docked in New Orleans, on their way to San Francisco, gold was discovered in California.

“By the time the Wheelers landed in San Francisco on Feb. 28, 1849, there was little interest in a church and a lot of interest in gold. But the church was planted in San Francisco and still ministers to the city today.”

The first Southern Baptist missionary to California was J. Lewis Shuck, formerly based in China. He settled in Sacramento and through his ministry a young man by the name of Harvey Gilbert became a Christian and became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Oakland in 1857.

Crews noted: “God planted a dream in Harvey Gilbert’s heart for reaching the West for Jesus Christ. I have paraphrased that dream like this: If the West is to be won to faith in Jesus Christ, there will need to be churches; those churches will need leaders; those leaders need to be trained; and they need to be trained here in the West.

“Gilbert resigned his church and moved across the bay to the little village of San Rafael, where he established the San Rafael Baptist Institute, a place where these leaders could be trained to reach the West for Christ.”

That effort failed but Hodges’ dream led to what Golden Gate Seminary has become today, Crews said.

“Great institutions are born and nourished by a compelling dream,” Crews said. “Scripture states that where there is no vision, the people perish [Proverbs 29:18]. I prefer to paraphrase that verse in a positive way by saying that where there is a vision, God’s people flourish.”

    About the Author

  • John C. Eagan