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Seminary Extension study yields layman Sunday school assignment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Earning a diploma in biblical studies from Seminary Extension meant so much to Joe Bement, 64-year-old lay member of Houston’s Second Baptist Church, he flew to Tennessee at his own expense to receive it during a chapel service in the Southern Baptist Convention Building in Nashville.
But what was to have been a simple graduation ceremony quickly became a moving time of testimony. After Bement received his diploma from Vertis Butler, Seminary Extension’s Independent Study Institute director, he was asked to speak. Trying to control the emotion in his voice and tears in his eyes, he thanked God and Seminary Extension for the opportunity to study the Bible in depth.
He had completed 16 courses to earn his diploma, studying individual books of the Bible like John, Acts and Hebrews, plus Old and New Testament survey courses, and even one on “How to Understand the Bible.”
“There is no way I can tell you how much my study of God’s Word has meant to me,” he said.
But Bement wasn’t through. Telling the chapel attendees it wasn’t enough to study the Bible, he recounted praying that God would give him opportunities to share what he had learned with others.
“My church, Second Baptist, is a huge church full of great teachers, many with a doctor’s degree,” Bement said. “Nevertheless, I let Gordon Smith, who oversees our adult Bible program, know I was finishing up my Seminary Extension work and wanted an opportunity to serve.
“The next thing I knew I was given the chance to teach two Sundays on a trial basis, while someone audited the class to see how well I did. On a Monday I got a call from Gordon. He said, ‘Joe, you hit a home run. Your lesson was well prepared. The class liked you. Do you want to teach the class?”
Tears again came as Bement said, “The first Sunday in June, I will begin teaching the Forum Bible Study Class. The minimum age is 70, and there are members in their 90s, still active. I’m excited!”
Most correspondence students who qualify for a Seminary Extension diploma receive their diploma by mail. Some have been presented their diplomas in special ceremonies in their churches or at associational meetings. But it was fitting that Bement, director of natural gas liquids marketing for PanEnergy Company, flew to Nashville, where the Seminary Extension offices are located, to receive his diploma.
After all, much of his studying was done while he waited in airports, rode on planes or sat in hotel rooms due to a hectic work schedule which has him traveling 50 percent of the time.
“The hardest part of completing my assignments,” Bement noted, “was remembering where I was in my studies before I got ‘interrupted’ by my work. Often I had to back up and reread what I had read before.”
Bement’s educational journey began four years ago when he enrolled in “Studies in Matthew” at the Union Baptist Association Seminary Extension Center in Houston — one of more than 350 Seminary Extension centers across the country. The reason? “I wanted to study the Bible at a more advanced level,” he said.
That first course was the only one he took at an extension center. The other 15 courses he took by correspondence through Seminary Extension’s Institute of Independent Study.
“Correspondence study better fit my travel schedule. I could pack up my books and take them with me. I could study at my own pace. And I didn’t have to worry about missing a class because I was out of town,” Bement said.
Last year 1,600 students took Seminary Extension courses by correspondence; about 4,500 attended classes at extension centers.
Correspondence study meant all the materials and instruction Bement needed for each course came to him at his home by mail. And he sent back his completed assignments and tests by mail. “My only regret,” he said, “was that I didn’t know about Seminary Extension earlier.”
Present in chapel for the graduation ceremony were two Seminary Extension instructors who had graded many of Bement’s courses and helped guide him in his studies.
John Langlois, pastor of Nashville’s Lockeland Baptist Church, told chapel attendees during the six years he’s graded Seminary Extension courses he’s seen Seminary Extension penetrate prison walls, providing interested inmates opportunities to study God’s Word; break down barriers of distance as people in isolated areas become involved in biblical studies; and leap over language barriers when Seminary Extension courses are used by students for whom English is a second language. “Seminary Extension also penetrates local churches, providing them with better trained pastors and Sunday school teachers,” Langlois said.
Bement, who enjoyed his Old Testament survey courses the most, because he felt he was weakest in the subject, was pleased his favorite instructor, Eugene Skelton, had the final word.
Skelton, a Sunday school growth consultant before he retired from the Sunday School Board, grades as many as 150 Old Testament papers a month. He told Bement, “It’s good to study the Bible. It’s good to study about the Bible. But my most important instruction to you is: Read the Bible. Read the Bible again and again. Then read it again. Never stop reading it.”

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  • Leonard Hill