FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–An unusual request in the early 1970s by leaders of nine Southern Baptist associations in the Houston-Galveston area spawned a ministry that has helped thousands of Christian ministers and churches.
The leaders asked Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to do something that had never been done by a Southern Baptist seminary — train local ministers by bringing professors to the ministers rather than having ministers leave their churches and go to the seminary.
On May 1, Southwestern and southeast Texas Baptists celebrated the 25th anniversary of the opening of Southwestern’s Houston center, the first-ever off-campus center of a Southern Baptist seminary, and announced plans to make the center a freestanding, degree-granting institution.
The plans call for raising $10 million to hire permanent faculty, build a theological library and build a state-of-the-art 30,000-square-foot facility with classrooms, a preaching lab and offices, Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill said.
The anniversary celebration included a convocation, with the sermon delivered by Hemphill, followed by a luncheon, during which students and alumni gave testimonies and Jim Spivey, associate dean for the campus, spoke.
At the luncheon, Hemphill announced the appointment of Houston-area pastor Bob Overton as the new director of the campus. Overton will replace Hilda Moffett, who celebrated 25 years with the seminary at the services.
Spivey noted Overton’s steady leadership of Union Baptist Association and his 17 years of teaching at the center.
“I believe he will continue to provide good representation for the seminary in the community and will continue to help us build strong bridges for ministry in Houston,” Spivey said.
Moffett joined the Houston campus days before it opened. She has been associate director since January 1995. Beginning Aug. 1, she will step down as associate director but will continue to serve the campus as a consultant.
“Hilda has been there from the very beginning of the program and has been the main reason the program has succeeded,” Spivey said.
He credited her understanding of theological education, her care for students, her involvement with Houston Baptist University and her knowledge of the Baptist pastoral community in Houston.
“For her bottom line it has been a ministry and not a job,” Spivey added. “Very few religious educators have had the impact that Hilda has had because of the number of people who have gone through the program giving her the opportunity to mold and shape the direction of their ministry.”
Overton, pastor of Rice Temple Baptist Church for 30 years, said he was excited about the future of the Houston campus, adding that the seminary will continue to be strongly conservative, academic and evangelistic with the goal of matching the quality of what is offered at the main campus in Fort Worth.
The campus is significant, he continued, because area churches have not lost ministers to Fort Worth, because people have been able to follow God’s leading into a second career, because of the missions impact the seminary has had in the Houston area and because the seminary has provided first-class theological education helping people to reach Houston.
“Southwestern has made Houston richer and better,” Overton added.
Speaking from Philippians 3:12 during the convocation, Hemphill said the school celebrates the 25th anniversary by celebrating the past as it looks to the future.
“We could celebrate as though we were satisfied with where we’ve been,” Hemphill said. But, he added, the apostle Paul said, “I forget what lies behind me.”
“We don’t want to forget the past, but we don’t want to live in the past,” Hemphill said.
Ephesians 3:20 says God can do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we can ask or think, Hemphill noted. He challenged students to keep stretching for goals that are beyond their reach because doing so requires them to depend on God.
Referring to projections that the Houston enrollment will double to 500 students in another 25 years, Hemphill said, “I think we could see the doubling of this institution in a few years, not 25.”
During the luncheon, students testified to the importance of the Houston center. Student Robert Williamson, pastor of Quail Valley Baptist Church, said he had to relocate to Texas from Nebraska to prepare for God’s calling after retiring from the Air Force. “It’s a blessing to walk onto this campus,” he said. “There is value in this campus.”
Mark Redd, a student and the pastor of Clay Road Baptist Church in Houston, said he enrolled in Southwestern and “a life-changing experience began to happen.”
Encouraging seminary leaders to continue emphasizing the extension center program, he said, “You are making a difference.”