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Southwestern alumni pray for new president during luncheon

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson began the seminary’s annual alumni luncheon June 14 by recognizing Frank Page, the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Page is a two-time graduate of Southwestern Seminary, having earned his master of divinity degree in 1976 and his Ph.D. in 1980.

Patterson asked the chairman of the seminary’s board of trustees, Vann McClain, to offer a prayer of dedication for Page. McClain is professor of Old Testament and director of library services at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary’s New York extension.

“Before the election, I was telling someone that Southwestern Seminary will be a big winner no matter who is elected, because all three candidates were Southwestern graduates,” Patterson said.

Also during the alumni luncheon, attended by more than 400 alumni, Southwestern Seminary honored L. Russ Bush III and Ray I. Riley with Distinguished Alumni Awards.

Bush is professor of philosophy and director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

Patterson described how Bush has always been known as a man of intellect and gentleness. In particular, Patterson cited Bush’s book “Baptists and the Bible” as “one of the 10 most important publications” of the 20th century. He co-authored the book with Tom Nettles.

“In that book, he demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that our Baptist forefathers held unquestionably to the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Holy Word,” Patterson said.

In 1989, Bush was appointed academic vice president at Southeastern Seminary. At the time, Southeastern “was undergoing a metamorphosis as it returned to the faith of its fathers,” Patterson said.

“Bush accepted the responsibility … even though the entire faculty voted against the appointment,” Patterson said. “It was one of the most incredibly difficult times anyone could have ever gone through. He was cursed … and accosted … But in the final analysis, he overcame by his sheer Christ-likeness…. By the time I arrived at Southeastern some years later, I discovered that he had won over the hearts even of those who were his bitterest enemies.”

Bush was accompanied to the stage by his wife, Cindy, as the alumni rose to their feet for a standing ovation.

“I never thought I would see it happen, but Southeastern today is what Southwestern was when I was a student there in the 1960s” Bush said.

He recalled his classes with Roy Fish, Jack McGorman and Robert Baker. “Those were glorious days,” he said. “I learned a tremendous amount from the faculty at Southwestern … I’ll never forget my days at Southwestern. It’s a wonderful school.”

The second Distinguished Alumni Award was given posthumously to Ray I. Riley, a 1953 graduate who died in 1963.

“We decided to honor an alumnus who wasn’t elected to any major positions, wasn’t well known, but was absolutely typical of Southwestern graduates who go anywhere and faithfully serve the Lord Jesus Christ,” Patterson said.

Patterson described how Riley was a newly married oil worker in Pampa, Texas, when he and his wife, Ruby, were won to faith in Jesus Christ through the efforts of a 1938 Southwestern graduate, John O. Scott, the pastor of Central Baptist Church in Pampa.

At 38 years old, Riley heard God’s call to preach. He quit his job and moved his family to Southwestern Seminary to prepare for ministry. He served as pastor of small churches throughout Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma, and also taught Bible classes at Decatur Baptist College, which later became Dallas Baptist University.

“To everyone who knew him, Ray Riley was an encourager who, like Barnabas, always had a good word or an encouraging word,” Patterson said. “His second characteristic was he always believed that if you trusted God you would be able to accomplish anything that the Lord put in your heart.”

Accepting the award on his father’s behalf was his son, Harold Riley, and Harold’s wife, Dottie. Harold was 13 years old when his father moved the family to Fort Worth and said he well remembers those days on Seminary Hill. Before he died, Ray Riley had lived to see Harold rise quickly through the ranks of the insurance industry to become president of American National Life based in Galveston, Texas. Today, Harold is chairman of the board of Citizens Insurance Company of America based in Austin, Texas.

“On behalf of Ray Riley, I express my gratitude for this award,” Harold Riley said. “Had it not been for my father, I would not be where I am today.”

In his report to the alumni, Patterson alerted them to the fact that in 2008-2010, the seminary will be celebrating its centennial. Southwestern Seminary was founded by B.H. Carroll in 1908, and moved to its current location in Fort Worth in 1910.

Patterson announced that the trustees continue to elect new faculty such as William Dembski, a leading proponent of Intelligent Design, and Steven Ortiz, one of the nation’s leading Christian archeologists.

“Our schools are functioning wonderfully, Patterson said. He outlined the growth of the seminary’s new Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, headed by its dean, Keith Eitel. Through it, students are spending part of their degree program “in the field,” planting churches in Zambia, Siberia and other places around the world.

The School of Church Music is seeking accreditation for a degree in jazz, Patterson said. Under the leadership of its dean, Stephen Johnson, “the music school is entering a new day,” Patterson said.

On other matters, Patterson said every college student enrolled at The College at Southwestern must go on an international mission trip before they graduate.

“We want to instill in every student the importance of a mission experience,” he said.

He reported on the success of the seminary’s J. Dalton Havard School for Theological Studies in Houston, and expressed excitement about former Vice President for Student Services Rudy González becoming the dean of the William R. Marshall Center for Theological Studies located on the campus of Parkhills Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas.

Patterson also showed an architectural “fly-over” video of the proposed new chapel. Plans are drawn for a 3,500-seat, 106,000-square-foot facility.

“We will use no Cooperative Program funds; we will not raise tuition; and we will have no series of small contributions,” Patterson said. “We are praying that the Lord will put it on the hearts of two or three people for the funds to build this new chapel.”

Patterson said the major fundraising efforts in the future will be for scholarship endowments.

“Why?” he asked. “Because the expenses of education are increasing faster than we can keep up.”

He referred alumni to the summer 2006 issue of Southwestern News magazine to read in detail about the seminary’s future plans.

In other business, the alumni elected Paul Kim as president-elect of the seminary’s alumni association. Kim will serve as president in 2007. He is the founding pastor of Berkland Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass., which has had a hand in planting similarly-named churches in more than 20 locations around the world, mostly near major universities. Bob Reccord will serve as president of the alumni association this year.

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  • Brent Thompson