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Southwestern’s Raymond Spencer dies; was 38-year-old faculty pioneer

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Raymond Bernard Spencer, assistant professor of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, died unexpectedly at his home in Fort Worth, Texas, Jan. 10.

Spencer, 38, was the seminary’s first fulltime African American faculty member, known among fellow faculty members for his congenial spirit and humility. He died from natural causes, but the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office has not made public the exact cause of death.

Spencer will lie in state in the rotunda of the seminary’s B.H. Carroll Memorial Complex from 12-3 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14. The faculty, staff, students and administration of the seminary will hold a memorial service in the seminary’s auditorium from 3-4 p.m.

A funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at New Rising Star Baptist Church in Fort Worth, where Spencer was assistant pastor. Services are still being planned in Houston at Hopewell Baptist Church, with burial scheduled for Friday in Houston Memorial Garden.

Born in Houston, Spencer attended Oklahoma Christian University, where he received a bachelor of science in 1989. He received a master of divinity from Southwestern Seminary in 1993 and then completed a Ph.D. at the seminary.

Spencer debated his call to the ministry, but asked God to make his path certain by providing a sign. In a 1998 interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Spencer said he asked God to send three people his way in a single day, all of whom were to call him “preacher.” God fulfilled the request.

“I prayed, and I asked the Lord, I told him that the only way I would do it was if I were 100 percent sure that he would be with me,” Spencer said. “Just as I am talking with you, I heard a voice say, ‘I am with you.’ From that moment on, no doubts.”

Spencer was elected to the faculty at Southwestern in 1998 while still a doctoral student.

He taught “Principles of Biblical Preaching” and other preaching-related courses.

Spencer’s election to the faculty was not based on race, Southwestern President Kenneth Hemphill said. “When he was brought onto the faculty, his election was, I told the media then, not an issue of color. He was simply the best qualified for the position,” Hemphill said Jan. 12.

Al Fasol, distinguished professor of preaching at Southwestern, said Spencer had impressed the entire preaching faculty with his skill and with his doctoral dissertation. “He was a student of mine … an outstanding student, very bright. He broke some new ground with his dissertation on black preaching and gave us all a new understanding on imagery in black preaching,” Fasol said. “He was going to be one of the strong members of our faculty.”

“Raymond was an outstanding scholar and preacher who brought together the best of the academic world and practical ministry skills,” Hemphill said. “He was a favorite among the students. He was one of the bright stars among Southern Baptist scholars of all races.”

William Wilson, also a Ph.D. graduate from Southwestern who co-owned a home with Spencer, said the seminary had lost an influential faculty member. “He was going to mold a generation of preachers for the better…. We’re going to miss out on that opportunity,” Wilson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Wilson and Spencer were best friends, Fasol said, and the two often remarked that when they married and had families they would still live near one another. “They wanted to live close so their children could know each other,” Fasol said.

Other faculty members at the seminary recalled Spencer’s qualities of humility and congeniality. Larry Ashlock, assistant dean of the pastoral ministries division, called Spencer a “gracious man.”

“Sometimes you have people who are larger than life that make you feel like you’re the only person on the planet, like you are a person of value and worth. In that sense, Christ’s hands touched your life,” Ashlock said. “That’s how it was with Raymond.”

Karen Bullock, associate dean for the Ph.D. degree, worked alongside Spencer as they mentored the Fellowship of Black Seminarians. She said Spencer was “a treasured gift to the faculty and to all of us at Southwestern Seminary.” She recalled that he often baked cookies for his colleagues in adjoining offices and was fond of giving everyone “bear hugs.”

“Raymond was so dear to all of us. We respect him and we were so excited about what God was doing in his life,” Bullock added.

“We are sorrowful, but we do not grieve like those who have no hope,” seminary spokesman David Porter said. “We rest assured in God’s promise that he has a design beyond what we can see. Dr. Spencer was a valued member of the seminary family. The training that he imparted to young ministers will result in glory for God and his Kingdom.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: LATE PROF’S GRADUATION and RAYMOND SPENCER.

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  • Gregory Tomlin