NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Though many question marks still dot the city of New Orleans and its recovery, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley’s State of the Seminary address April 12 pointed confidently to God’s provision and providence, which continue now 20 months after Hurricane Katrina.
Kelley said there was much information to report about the seminary but that his address was just as much a testimony to God’s faithfulness. His address was delivered during the seminary’s board of trustees meeting.
“I feel as though any telling of where we are and how we are doing is really more of a president’s testimony regarding the all-sufficient grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Kelley said.
Kelley first pointed to the ways that all-sufficient grace has brought the seminary to where it now stands.
“We are more than 90 percent done with the basic restoration process,” he said. “At every possible point, we have attempted to improve as we repair. The campus has never been more beautiful, and it is steadily becoming more functional and complete.”
What’s more, he said, student enrollment has mirrored infrastructure recovery.
“Most schools in town are running about 50 to 75 percent of their pre-Katrina numbers,” he said. “We are doing better than that.”
In April 2006, main campus student enrollment was at 1,575. Presently, Kelley reported, close to 1,600 students are based in New Orleans.
“It looks like we will finish the year within 400 of our all-time record enrollment,” he said. “God is calling out the called to come to New Orleans to prepare for ministry.”
Kelley reported that God has continued to provide for the monetary needs to the seminary. Kelley projected the eventual cost of Hurricane Katrina recovery for the seminary to be $55 million or more.
“With insurance, the gifts of Southern Baptists and others, and untold volunteer labor, we are down to looking for the last $1.2 million of that amount,” Kelley said. “This is a miracle!”
Alongside the miracle of how God brought New Orleans Seminary through the last 20 months stands the miracle of how He is moving it into the future, Kelley said.
While the campus restoration task is well under way, Kelley said, much-needed faculty positions are being filled as well. During their April 11 meeting, seminary trustees approved the hiring of four new faculty members.
Those new professors include Mark Tolbert, associate professor of evangelism and pastoral ministry and director of the doctor of ministry program; Dennis Phelps, professor of preaching and director of alumni and church-minister relations; Tony Merida, assistant professor of preaching and dean of the chapel; and Rex Butler, associate professor of church history and patristics.
Kelley also introduced Mike Edens, the new associate dean of graduate faculty and professor of theology and Islamic studies. Edens recently returned to the United States from serving in North Africa and the Middle East with the International Mission Board.
“In addition to these, we are in conversation with several other candidates who are likely to be here by the fall,” Kelley said. “When we are through, this faculty will be larger and inclusive of more disciplines that we had before Katrina.”
Kelley announced at least four different possible donors for endowed faculty chairs. For both faculty and students, God continues to provide financial assistance.
Kelley reported the sale of the seminary’s property in the Atlanta area where the North Georgia Extension Center was stationed until 2006. The property was sold for $8.4 million and will be financed by the seminary.
“As a result of the conditions of the sale, the seminary will not receive the bulk of the money from the sale for several years,” Kelley said. “But we are rejoicing that the property sold so quickly and for such a good price.”
“At least some of the funds will help us continue to get this campus in shape for the 21st Century, but much of it we hope to put in an endowment to underwrite the costs of Atlanta and our whole extension center system.”
To honor the church that donated the property to the seminary, trustees will create the “Columbia Drive Baptist Church Education Fund,” representing the largest single gift in the seminary’s history.
Kelley also surveyed the upcoming building plans for the entire campus, including new residences, the continued restoration and expansion of the seminary’s Providence Guest House and a state-of-the-art library.
One challenge facing the seminary Kelley mentioned is the increased operating budget. Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Seminary successfully offered competitive theological training while keeping costs down, he said. The needed facility and faculty expansion combined with the increased insurance costs of post-Katrina New Orleans call for a larger budget.
“All of us, beginning with me, must participate in the annual fund,” he said.
Though many of the question marks facing New Orleans Seminary have been erased in the past 20 months, Kelley was fast to remind those present of their location as they faced the future.
“I close by reminding you that each of us, and this school of providence and prayer, are in the hand of God,” Kelley said. “Nothing can pull us out of His grip.”