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NOBTS honors longtime La. pastor

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has honored the life and ministry of Perry R. Sanders, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Lafayette, La., with the naming of the new Perry R. Sanders Center for Ministry Excellence.

A host of visitors, including members of Sanders’ family and church, former fellow staff members and Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director David Hankins, were on hand for a ribbon-cutting at the new center April 11. The Perry R. Sanders Center for Ministry Excellence, located on the west side of the seminary’s Leavell Chapel, will house the seminary’s doctor of ministry and doctor of educational ministry programs.

NOBTS President Chuck Kelley recounted, “It was a while back on the old campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary when a young kid showed up and wanted to be a seminary student, and he was told that he was too young to be enrolled in seminary.”

That young kid was Sanders, and though he was a year too young to enroll in the seminary, he was able to convince then-president Roland Q. Leavell to make an exception. Before long, Sanders was pastoring a small, struggling church in New Orleans -– New Life Baptist Church.

“It was the wrong name,” Sanders joked. “It was not the New Life. It was the No Life.”

Under Sanders’ leadership, New Life Baptist Church did indeed receive a new burst of life -– growing from three members to 37. While a student at NOBTS, Sanders also helped start three churches north of Lake Pontchartrain, all of which he described as still thriving.

Those churches bolster Sanders’ legacy, but his best-known post was as pastor of First Baptist Church in Lafayette, La. Through time, faithfully teaching God’s Word and committed community involvement, Sanders earned the respect and trust of the people of Lafayette.

“By far and away, the best-known religious leader in [Lafayette] is a Baptist,” Kelley said. “I will tell you that when he went there as pastor of First Baptist Church no one would have thought it, unless they knew him and knew he’d be there that long,” showing himself to be “excellent in every aspect of ministry.”

During his 63 years of faithful ministry and preaching God’s Word, Sanders said, “I’ve had a wonderful time.”

Part of the launching of the Perry R. Sanders Center for Ministry Excellence was the opening of an additional compressed interactive video “CIV” classroom for D.Min. and D.Ed.Min. students studying in the seminary’s extension centers. This added capacity will make doctoral studies more readily available for students across the Southeast. The classroom also will bear Sanders’ name.

Now on the horizon is the creation of an endowed faculty chair named in his honor, for which the seminary has committed to matching every dollar given toward that endowed chair up to $500,000.

“An endowed chair is considered the highest honor in the academic world,” Kelley said. “We want to have an academic chair that recognizes the importance of being a really good pastor.”

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  • Michael McCormack