NEW ORLEANS (BP) — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary trustees voted to expand the institution’s extension center system by adding new locations and additional offerings at an existing site. But the biggest news at the meeting — an anonymous gift to broaden the Caskey Center for Church Excellence scholarship program — required no trustee action.

Seminary President Chuck Kelley announced that the gift will enable Mississippi bivocational and smaller membership church ministers to be able to apply for full-tuition scholarships at New Orleans Seminary.

In April, the anonymous donor gave $1.5 million to launch the Caskey Center at New Orleans Seminary and offer 100 full-tuition scholarships to bivocational and smaller membership church ministers from congregations that cooperate with the Louisiana Baptist Convention. The seminary interviewed more than 130 Louisiana ministers this summer who met the scholarship qualifications, and the donor agreed to fund the entire group for the 2014-2015 school year. As of October, the donor had given a total of $7.5 million to the Caskey Center and decided to offer scholarships for up to 50 Mississippi ministers.

“Nearly 100 years ago Southern Baptists voted to establish a seminary in a place with few churches and those few all small and struggling,” Kelley said after the Oct. 6 meeting. “It is fitting that today we acknowledge our largest gift ever is for the purpose of training the leaders of our smaller churches. These churches and their leaders, in cities, towns and villages, form the backbone and heart of the SBC. We are honored to make them the center of our attention.”

Kelley continued, “Without the prayers, giving and lobbying efforts of Mississippi Baptists, it is unlikely the SBC would have ever decided to create a seminary in New Orleans. Today we are thrilled to announce the availability of 50 fully paid scholarships for small church leaders in Mississippi.”

The scholarships, up to $6,000 per year, are available for certificate, associate, undergraduate or master’s degree study at the seminary and study in any of its delivery systems including the main campus, Louisiana and Mississippi extension centers, hybrid courses, workshops, conference-based courses and online programs.

To qualify for the new program in Mississippi, students must be serving as paid staff at a smaller membership church (up to 150 in worship) in cooperation with the Mississippi Baptist Convention or as a biovocational minister at a Mississippi Baptist church. In addition, scholarship recipients are required to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, available at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website (www.cbmw.org).

A major goal of the Caskey Center is to help students develop and sharpen skills in biblical exposition and personal evangelism. An evangelism practicum is included each semester a student is in the program. Students entering the program during its first year will receive a Logos Bible Software package and Logos software training to help promote faithful biblical exposition.

The Caskey Center is currently receiving applications for the Louisiana and Mississippi scholarships at www.nobts.edu/CaskeyCenter. Scholarships will be awarded as early as the spring 2015 semester, which begins in January.

Meanwhile, trustees continued their efforts to strengthen the seminary’s distance learning program. The board voted to create a new extension center in Augusta, Ga., and a new certificate training site in Orlando, Fla. The new extension in Augusta will offer both graduate and undergraduate study and meet at Abilene Baptist Church. The new Orlando teaching site in the Lake Nona Community will offer the biblical ministry certificate.

Trustees approved the expansion of the existing Lafayette, La., undergraduate extension center at East Bayou Baptist Church to include graduate study. The new centers will be launched as soon as accreditation approval is obtained.

“Our new extension center in Augusta is the next step in our Georgia statewide strategy of offering quality theological education within driving distance of every Georgia minister,” provost Steve Lemke said.

“Augusta is also an easily accessible location for ministers in south central South Carolina. Adding the graduate program in Lafayette is filling out a similar statewide strategy in Louisiana, in part because of the increased [number of] Louisiana students through the Caskey scholarships,” Lemke said.

The board approved an additional study track and minor degree revisions for the seminary’s church music division. Trustees voted to create a guided ministry practicum track for the master of arts in worship ministries and a master of divinity with specialization in worship ministries programs.

Revisions were approved for the master of divinity with specialization in church music and the master of music in church music degree programs.

In other action:

— The board voted to establish the Michael E. Moskau Award for Outstanding Kingdom Service. The award honors long-time seminary contractor and faithful donor Michael Moskau who died earlier this year after a lengthy illness. The award will be given each year during the meeting of the New Orleans Seminary Foundation Board to recognize the recipient’s outstanding contributions to the mission of the seminary.

— Trustees approved a plan to remodel and modernize the president’s home. The plan, which will use no Cooperative Program funds, will better equip the home for its dual role as a residence and a venue for official seminary gatherings.