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NOBTS graduation ceremonies highlight latest initiatives

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s 84th annual commencement ceremonies were highlighted by several first-time events, including the first graduation exercises for students in the undergraduate program under the new name of Leavell College and the granting of new graduate degrees and specializations.

NOBTS President Chuck Kelley presided over the two ceremonies May 17-18. The graduation exercises were separated to accommodate the growing graduating classes, consisting of 144 undergraduate and 136 graduate and doctoral graduation participants this spring.

In a historic day for the seminary, Leavell College held its first commencement ceremony May 17 using its new name, which honors the legacy left by George Washington and Corra (Berry) Leavell and their extended family. NOBTS trustees voted this past October to change the name of the institution’s College of Undergraduate Studies to Leavell College.

NOBTS President Emeritus Landrum Leavell II, who labored hard to establish the undergraduate program during his tenure at the seminary, shared in the special ceremony via telephone linkup. This was especially fitting since Leavell also was instrumental in bringing modern-day technology to the classroom, including compressed interactive video (CIV) that connects classrooms in different cities for real-time video and audio interaction.

In conversation with Kelley, Leavell offered tidbits of information about the Leavells’ nine sons and their families, eight of whom have served in full-time vocational ministry as pastors, evangelists, missionaries and denominational leaders throughout the Southern Baptist Convention.

Pointing first to the parents of the nine sons, Leavell told the assembly, “After Grandfather George was wounded in the Civil War, he raised the nine boys, preaching to them and teaching them about the Lord. Grandmother Corra was a woman of prayer and discipline.” Leavell shared about a special piece of furniture, a trunk, over which his grandmother prayed daily for her children to be used mightily by the Lord.

Leavell then recounted about his namesake, Uncle Landrum, who was the eldest of the nine brothers and was the first director of the Baptist Young People’s Union, a forerunner of today’s Discipleship Training, and the second director of the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources). While there, Landrum recruited Arthur Flake, who reshaped Sunday School into a driving engine of church growth.

James Leavell, who served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Houston, was a well-known evangelist and pastor in other churches across the Southeast. Arnaud Leavell was a dentist in Hollywood, Calif.

Two brothers served as missionaries to China — George, a medical doctor, and Ullin, an educator. Frank Leavell pioneered Southern Baptist student work, serving as a longtime leader of the Baptist Student Union of the Sunday School Board. Clarence Leavell served as minister of education at First Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn.

Leonard Leavell was another pastor in the Southeast and father of NOBTS’ seventh president. “That’s my pappy,” Leavell said of Leonard. “A pastor all of his ministry, my father got his Ph.D. in Greek and was a tremendous preacher, much in demand.”

Roland Leavell served as evangelism director for the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) and later as president of New Orleans Seminary. “Uncle Roland was a unique character,” Leavell said. “He was a man of vision, a man of purpose, and a great preacher.” Leavell went on to explain how Roland was able to secure the present location of the seminary and how he was a national leader for evangelism for the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Uncle Roland was a personal soul-winner until his death,” Leavell recounted. “When he was president of the seminary, he made all his students memorize five Scriptures a day. When I was president, I only required two Scriptures a day,” Leavell laughed.

Kelley, current president of the seminary, shared that the reason he came to New Orleans Seminary was because Landrum P. Leavell II was the president. “Every church that Dr. Leavell pastored grew,” Kelley affirmed.

“In the height of denominational controversy, you never heard about problems at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary,” Kelley added. “Dr. Leavell led the seminary with excellence, using innovative programs, including the baccalaureate program being celebrated today.”

To the graduates, Kelley concluded, “We are so proud of our college’s heritage. You have the distinct honor of being the first to graduate under this powerful name.”

In addition, Kelley conferred degrees on 59 men incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Since none of the men could be present for the commencement service on the main campus to receive their associate in Christian ministry and bachelor of arts in Christian ministry degrees, a separate graduation service will be held for them May 28, with Kelley presiding.

Leavell College offers a foundational bachelor of arts degree in Christian ministry, but also has certificate-level classes for laypersons, a diploma program for those without high school diplomas or GEDs and fully accredited associate and baccalaureate degrees.

There were several firsts at the graduate school commencement exercises on May 18, including the first doctor of educational ministry degree graduate to be granted and several first-time master of divinity degree specializations.

The doctor of educational ministry degree is a new professional doctorate degree approved in 1998 by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, the accrediting agency for graduate theological education in North America. The D.Ed.Min. degree is designed for students who serve in some form of church ministry, denominational service or missions administration and who hold a master of arts of Christian education (MACE), master in arts of religious education (MARE), master in religious education (MRE) or equivalent degrees.

Previously, holders of these degrees were required to do master of divinity equivalency work before beginning a professional doctoral program.

Randy Hall was the seminary’s first-time master of divinity degree recipient with a specialization in church planting in North America. Designed to prepare students for the task of planting healthy, indigenous churches through supervised ministry on the church field, the degree is a part of the Nehemiah Project, a joint project between the North American Mission Board, NOBTS and other Southern Baptist seminaries and entities.

Michael Ensign and Todd Sessions were the seminary’s first master of divinity degree graduates with specializations in international church planting. In conjunction with the SBC’s International Mission Board, these graduates completed the last two years of their degree on the international field.

Also, master of divinity degrees in the specializations of pastoral care, pastoral ministry and church ministry track had first-time graduates.

In his charge to the graduates, Kelley pointed to four things that serve as the wrong motives for going into ministry: money, glory and fame, love of people, and a sense of belonging. Instead, he said the motive is found in Colossians 3:23 and parallel Scriptures in Ephesians 6.

“Whatever you do, do it heartily as for the Lord and not for man,” Kelley advised. “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, without regard to public acclaim, money and the opinion of people. Then you will experience God’s pleasure … that will sustain you in an unbelievable way.

“It will be as great as a stadium full of accolades from those watching your progress. You will never find anything more satisfying in all your days.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: LEAVELL COLLEGE GRAD and HISTORIC GRADUATION.

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker
    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United. Read All by Shannon Baker ›