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Ray Rigdon, dead at 84, led Seminary Extension 18 years

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Raymond M. (Ray) Rigdon, who led the Southern Baptist Convention’s Seminary Extension ministry from 1969-1988, died Jan. 16 in Nashville, Tenn., after a lengthy illness. He was 84.

Rigdon led Seminary Extension during some of its greatest years of expansion.

Seminary Extension, founded in 1951, is a ministry of the SBC’s six seminaries, offering 100-plus diploma-level courses by correspondence, on CD ROM, the Internet and in more than 400 extension centers across the country. While not a degree program, Seminary Extension does award lay certificates and diplomas.

Under Rigdon’s 18 years of Seminary Extension leadership, the ministry gained accreditation with the National Home Study Council (now the Distance Education and Training Council) in 1972 and became a member of the National University Extension Association (now the National University Continuing Education Association) the following year.

Among Rigdon’s other achievements: organizing a network of Seminary Extension-affiliated state representatives in 1973 after a cutback of four key home office staff members; adding Spanish-language instruction in 1971; piloting a “telecourse” in 1981 utilizing telephone conference equipment and video and audiotape resources; and installation of the ministry’s first computer system in 1985.

Also throughout the years, the Seminary Extension curriculum was updated and expanded.

In 1970, Rigdon wrote that Seminary Extension “was established originally to serve ministers unable to attend a seminary…. Now times have changed. We continue helping every one of these God-called men. But more and more seminary trained men are seeking the help of [Seminary Extension] in their efforts to continue to learn. … Seminary Extension is designed to help any minister, regardless of the limitations or the extent of his formal training, to continue to learn.”

Rigdon, in the mid-1970s, promoted Seminary Extension with the slogan, “Recycle Your Mind — Study,” according to a history of the ministry by Leonard Hill.

Seminary Extension’s current director, William E. Vinson Jr., noted that Rigdon “had a passion for training pastors without formal education and lay persons serving in ministry roles. Seminary Extension continues to follow his lead today.”

Last year, Seminary Extension had 3,789 enrollees from nearly every state and several foreign countries who took more than 9,000 courses.

Vinson noted that Rigdon was “instrumental in upgrading Seminary Extension to provide quality education. … He led the way in securing the initial credit from the Distance Education and Training Council and credit recommendation of some of our courses by the American Council on Education.”

Vivian Buttrey, a Seminary Extension staff member for more than 27 years, worked with Dr. Rigdon from 1976 until his retirement in 1988. “Dr. Rigdon was always a Christian gentleman yet was a stickler for detail [as he] made certain Seminary Extension’s curriculum was significantly upgraded. …

“Always the educator and scholar, Dr. Rigdon surprised some with his avid interest in sports,” Buttrey added. “He loved to tease me when my favorite teams lost!”

Prior to his Seminary Extension work, Rigdon served as editor-in-chief for the Training Union department of the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) from 1953-1969. He joined the board’s staff in 1949 as young people’s editor in the Sunday School department, in addition to duties as associate editor of a teacher’s guide.

He was superintendent of teaching and training in the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Sunday School department from 1940-42 after graduating from Mercer University in 1939.

During World War II, Rigdon served in the Air Force as a combat intelligence specialist in the Pacific Theater.

After the war, he earned a bachelor of divinity degree in 1948 from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a doctor of theology degree in 1952 there. He served as Crescent Hill Baptist Church’s educational director in Louisville from 1948-49.

He was a native of Columbus, Ga., who accepted Christ in 1928 at Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Columbus and sensed a call to religious education during his junior year at Mercer.

Rigdon was a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Nashville and is survived by his wife of 56 years, Doris; a son, Robert Lee Rigdon Sr.; a daughter, Becca Brasfield; and one grandson.

A memorial service was scheduled for Jan. 19 at Immanuel Baptist Church. The family asked that memorials be made to Belmont University in Nashville.