HOUSTON (BP)–Nearly 300 pastors, students and supporters gathered in Houston Sept. 9 to celebrate the opening of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s newly established Houston campus.
Houston evangelist J. Dalton Havard and officers from Southwestern gathered for a convocation ceremony at Park Place Baptist Church to inaugurate the academic year. The church deeded its $7 million, eight-and-a-half-acre campus to the seminary last year. The seminary’s Houston extension program was located on the campus of Houston Baptist University for 27 years prior to its relocation to Park Place.
Havard conceived the idea of establishing a freestanding Southern Baptist seminary in his city six years ago and approached officials at Southwestern. Today his dream is a reality.
“The greatest need at this point in the history of the church,” Havard said, “is trained leadership. I am now 80 years old, but I knew if I could somehow help in establishing a training ground for ministers I would have accomplished my mission. These young men will be trained here and then travel around the world to share the gospel.”
Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill predicted during the convocation that the Houston seminary may be about to experience momentous growth.
“You are here by God’s call at one of the most exciting days in church history, and the question is how you will respond to that call,” Hemphill said. “I think we will have more than 500 students within a few years.”
The Association of Theological Schools and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools awarded degree-granting status to Southwestern’s Houston extension last summer. Students who choose to enroll at the Houston campus no longer are required to complete residency requirements at the seminary’s main campus in Fort Worth.
Each academic year, Hemphill presents a scriptural theme for the seminary’s main campus in Fort Worth and for its extensions in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Marshall, Texas, Shawnee, Okla., and Little Rock, Ark. This year he discussed a three-year theme based on the Lord’s Prayer: “His name, His kingdom, His will — Our passion.”
“The first three commitments of this prayer I believe are the focal points, not only of Jesus’ ministry, but they should be for ours as well,” Hemphill said.
Focusing on this year’s theme, “His name,” Hemphill said that before global evangelization and spiritual renewal in the United States can occur, God’s people must live according to God’s name and character.
“When we take the name ‘Christian,’ people make conclusions about the Lord we serve from the lifestyle we portray,” he said. “If we live to honor his name, they will know us to be his.”
Bob Overton, director of Southwestern’s Southeast Texas extension program, said the seminary would not have been possible without the cooperation of the Park Place congregation.
“The people of Park Place have given us this property, but they didn’t stop at the giving of the property. They have in a very real sense given of themselves because they have become a prominent part of the campus,” Overton said.
Park Place pastor James Clark said the church saw the deeding of the campus last December as a “kingdom move” that would revitalize the church and allow the seminary to establish a permanent home for its Southeast Texas extension program. The church and seminary share the church facility in Houston’s southeast corridor.
A certificate of appreciation to Houston Baptist University was presented to HBU President Doug Hodo during a luncheon following the convocation, while Overton said the university had treated the seminary with “royal Christian goodness.”
Hodo said the university regretted the loss of so many seminary students on its own campus but added that the move does nothing to end the friendship between the seminary and the university.
“We do not see this as a cessation of a friendship. We see it as an extension of the work for the kingdom. … We don’t foresee anything but good days ahead.”
James Spivey, administrative dean for the Houston campus, said the seminary will strive to meet specific goals in the years to come. Among those goals is reaching the Hispanic community in Houston for Christ, equipping lay leaders through theological education to be a “teaching church” and creating a “global missions laboratory” in which students learn how to reach the international community.
George Atkinson, director of the Perkins School of Theology Houston-Galveston program, David Boyd, president of the College of Biblical Studies, Brendan Cahill of St. Mary’s Seminary and Houston Graduate School of Theology President David Robinson were present for the convocation ceremony. Other members of Houston’s theological studies community also attended as well as nearly 100 members of Park Place Baptist Church.