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New Orleans Seminary to stay at current Gentilly Blvd. site

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Trustees of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary voted unanimously March 11 for the 80-year-old seminary “to remain in its present location” rather than build a new campus somewhere else in the greater New Orleans area.
“Today we have decided our future as a campus,” said Chuck Kelley, seminary president.
“We will be true to the heritage of our mission. We will be neighbors and not naysayers. We will do reality-based and not reality-shielded theological education.
“New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is the gateway to the world,” he said, displaying the seminary’s new motto and logo in PowerPoint presentation.
The vote came after the presentation of results from a two-year study by an ad hoc committee called “Vision New Orleans,” established in March 1996 by the seminary’s then newly elected eighth president, Kelley, at his first trustee meeting as seminary president.
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, one of six seminaries owned and supported by the Southern Baptist Convention, is the third-largest seminary in the world and is at the forefront among seminaries of all denominations in distance learning programs. New Orleans Seminary also “is the most uniquely urban of the six SBC seminaries,” Kelley said.
“It is the unanimous opinion of this committee that the purpose assigned to this seminary by the Southern Baptist Convention and the seminary’s role in fulfilling the Great Commission and the Great Commandments can best be accomplished by remaining in our present location,” said Davis Cooper, chairman of the Vision New Orleans committee and pastor of University Hills Baptist Church in Denver.
Trustees unanimously accepted all five recommendations from the Vision New Orleans committee. Besides the recommendation not to move, trustees voted for the seminary to:
— prepare a new master plan for the future of the campus, accommodating technological developments for education in the 21st century.
— expand the campus on the eastern side to Press Drive as funds and property become available.
— renovate the campus with a view toward remaining permanently at the current location.
— develop strategies to address the major concerns expressed in the Vision New Orleans survey.
The “major concerns” surfaced through extensive surveys done by one of the committee workgroups. This group, convened by Randy Millwood, NOBTS assistant professor of Christian education, surveyed a broad range of the seminary constituency — faculty, staff, current main campus students, current extension center students, spouses of students, prospective students and alumni — questioning their “perceived greatest strengths and weaknesses of the seminary,” Millwood said. Millwood emphasized his workgroup measured “29 perceptions,” as opposed to facts about the seminary campus and the city of New Orleans. In addition, Millwood said his workgroup “carefully analyzed numerous cross-sections” of the nearly 2,746 people surveyed.
Ironically, “only minor concerns” surfaced among those who currently live or have lived in New Orleans, Millwood said.
“Consistently, the only group with major concerns were extension center students,” he said. “Extension center students tended to view more facts of living in New Orleans in a negative light when compared to New Orleans campus students.”
Therefore, the committee recommended “marketing the benefits of living in New Orleans, including the consistently declining crime rates, the improving economic conditions and the culture of the city, including numerous and expanding family friendly entertainment possibilities.”
Two years ago, “many of us approached the Vision New Orleans committee assignment almost assuming we would have to move,” Cooper said. “As we proceeded with our work, through our study and research, there was a real desire to do whatever needed to be done.
“What has taken place was by the spirit of God,” he said. “We received a reaffirmation and assurance that this is where God put this seminary and this is where God intends for this seminary to continue to be.”
“We are not staying because we have to,” said trustee chairman Bill Hamm, a retired mechanical contractor from Shreveport, La. “We are staying because we want to.”
The Vision New Orleans Committee was composed of 15 people representing a cross-section of the seminary family, Cooper said.
Trustees on the committee were Rickey Brantley, pastor of Lawrence Drive Baptist Church, Macon, Ga.; Cooper; Hamm; William Hanberry, retired president and owner of real estate and heavy equipment companies in Hattiesburg, Miss.; Tony Lambert, pastor of Westside Baptist Church, Omaha, Neb.; Idonia Porterfield, a homemaker in Montgomery, Ala.; and Ron Yarbrough, pastor of Warren Baptist Church, Indianapolis.
Seminary administrators on the committee were President Kelley and Clay Corvin, vice president for business affairs.
Faculty members on the committee were Dennis Cole, chairman of the division of biblical studies, and Millwood, who directs the seminary’s Institute for Church Health.
Two members from the seminary’s Foundation Board on Vision New Orleans were Martha Ann Powell, wife of Sen. John William Powell of Liberty, Miss.; and Edward Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Ocala, Fla.
Staff representative on the committee was Chris Friedmann, director of campus facilities. The student representative was Brian Cleveland of Bossier City, La.
Initial discussions on moving or staying began about two years before Kelley’s election, during the presidential term of Landrum Leavell, who retired in December 1995. At the time, the seminary recently had been given a sizeable piece of property outside New Orleans and local groups were considering purchase of the existing campus.
Prior to his election and following, “As I met with trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni, pastors and other people from New Orleans, the one question that everyone asked was, ‘Is the seminary going to move?'” Kelley said.
“Although we were not planning to move, we did not have the luxury of avoiding that question. We needed to put the seminary in a position to be able to make the best decision when the time would come, whenever that may be.
“That time is now,” Kelley said, “and the decision is to stay. We will build a 21st-century seminary in this 21st-century location.”

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  • Debbie Moore