NEW ORLEANS (BP) — At first, it seemed like any other chapel for Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, but he was in for a surprise. Members of the faculty and staff planned a special recognition of Kelley’s 20th anniversary as NOBTS president.

Kelley was clearly surprised and moved by the acknowledgement.

Chapel at NOBTS usually includes a brief encouraging word from Kelley between two times of musical worship, when he greets those in attendance, introduces the speaker and offers a prayer of consecration for the service. But on March 1, when Kelley expected the music and singing to resume, it did not. Instead, Jonathan Key, faculty member and assistant to the president, stepped in to announce the anniversary. The announcement stirred a standing ovation from the chapel audience.

Kelley began serving as NOBTS president on March 1, 1996. From 1983 until 1996 he served as an evangelism professor and director of seminary’s Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health. During Kelley’s tenure as president, the seminary has experienced significant student enrollment and endowment growth.

During the celebration, John Foster, NOBTS trustee and member of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, read a statement on behalf of trustee chairman Dan Wilson of California:

“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I extend congratulations to Dr. Chuck Kelley upon his twentieth anniversary as president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

“The nature of service on a Board offers me the opportunity to represent not only the current seminary trustees, but also the hundreds of trustees who have served during the past 20 years, as well as all who have served during the near century of the seminary’s history; we all are the Board of Trustees of New Orleans Seminary. We all raise our voices today to offer our sincere gratitude for your service of leadership to the Seminary. You have led us tirelessly; you have been relentless in your investment of time and energy to the tasks that are unique to an institutional leader. You have dreamed highly, studied broadly, sacrificed deeply, and stretched long — to the benefit of the seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention and the Church and the Kingdom of God. Thank you, Dr. Kelley, for your perseverance, your tenacity, and your love for the Christ and His Church. Thank you for charting this ship through some stormy waters during these 20 years and your part in making us what we have become as we’ve weathered the storms and adapted to changing climates and, in the process, become better and stronger, ready to face the future. Congratulations, Dr. Kelley.”

Drew Landry of Spotswood Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, Va., recalled before preaching the chapel message that his graduation from the seminary’s doctor of philosophy program was Kelley’s first graduation as president.

“Twenty years ago, I remember the first graduation message that you preached as president of NOBTS,” Landry recounted. “I remember two things that you shared with us in the graduation message.”

Landry said Kelley told the graduates that ministers of the Gospel needed to have a newspaper to understand and exegete the culture in which they would serve. Kelley also said the graduates would need a “compass” to keep them pointed in the right direction.

“Thank you for giving me those two things 20 years ago. They have stuck with me,” Landry said.

After the service, the campus community gathered on the steps of Leavell Chapel for a brief reception to honor Kelley and his wife Rhonda. The March 1 celebration was the first of several events planned to honor the Kelleys during their anniversary year at NOBTS.