NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Trustees at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary approved a new student housing project and voted to relocate the school’s South Georgia Extension center during an Oct. 12 meeting. The board also approved five new certificate-level training sites and reduced the number of required hours in the doctor of educational ministry degree.
The board approved the construction of a new $1.7 million apartment building for student families. The new building will have eight two-bedroom apartments. News of the new housing comes on the heels of a strong fall enrollment. Seminary President Chuck Kelley said all current student housing units are occupied. Construction of the new building is scheduled to be completed by Aug. 1, 2012 — just in time for the 2012 fall semester.
The apartments will be built debt-free thanks to a donation from a private family foundation based in Louisiana. Kelley said the foundation sent $500,000 check to the seminary in early October. The remaining funds will be sent in early 2012.
Seminary officials have identified two potential locations for the new housing — one site near the back of campus and another on the west side, closer to the front of campus. Seminary officials favor the location closer to the front, but will need to conduct a few studies before settling on that site. Kelley said the final proposed location will be presented to the trustees’ executive committee meeting in December.
SOUTH GEORGIA EXTENSION CENTER
The board also voted to move the South Georgia Extension Center from Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., to Central Baptist Church in Warner Robins, Ga. Accessibility was the driving force behind the move. Warner Robins is more centrally located and has easy access from Interstate 16 and Interstate 75. Seminary officials believe the move will result in new growth for the center.
Steve Echols, regional associate dean for Alabama and Georgia centers, expressed his appreciation to Sherwood Baptist Church for hosting the center since 1999. He said Sherwood’s pastor, Michael Catt, and the congregation have been generous in providing space, equipment and support for the center.
“Now we are equally grateful to have the opportunity to work with Central Baptist Church in Warner Robins,” Echols said. “The purpose of the move is to provide a more accessible location for a larger number of potential students from the central and south Georgia regions. As has been the case with Sherwood Baptist, NOBTS students will be able to take classes at a church that models the qualities of a healthy congregation. We believe that such an atmosphere is an important dimension of their seminary training.”
Echols said that Central Baptist’s pastor, Owen Bozeman, has been especially helpful in facilitating the transition. The church is providing meeting space and resources to help with the move.
CERTIFICATE-LEVEL TRAINING SITES
Trustees approved five new certificate-level training sites — four in Georgia and one in Mississippi. These accredited certificate programs offer focused ministerial training in a specific area and are designed for ministers who have no formal training.
The Georgia sites are Central Baptist Church in Warner Robins, Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta, Decision Point Ministry in Atlanta, and Peace Baptist Church in Decatur. Central Baptist will offer the Bible teaching certificate; the other Georgia sites will offer the Bible teaching certificate and the church planting certificate.
Peter Kendrick, Leavell College coordinator at the seminary’s North Georgia Hub, said the sites at Peachtree, Decision Point and Peace are training ministers and lay leaders to reach Atlanta’s diverse and rapidly growing population. Initially, the site at Peachtree will focus on training Ghanaians and other African immigrants.
“Ask any pastor or church planter in metropolitan Atlanta to describe his greatest challenge, he will ask, ‘How do I equip my people to make disciples of all nations in the city?'” Kendrick said. “Three new churches have partnered with the NOBTS as an integral partner in equipping their members to become disciple makers of all the nations that live within their community.”
The Mississippi training site will be located at the Benton-Tippah Baptist Association in Ripley, Miss. The site will offer the pastoral ministry certificate.
D.ED.MIN. HOURS REDUCED
The trustees also approved a reduction of hours in the doctor of educational ministry degree program.
New Orleans Seminary is one of only five seminaries in the U.S. to offer a doctor of educational ministry (D.Ed.Min.) degree. And the current 48-hour degree plan is the longest. Officials at New Orleans found a way to trim the degree to 44 hours without harming the academic integrity of the degree. Under the new plan, students will complete the same number of seminars and workshops and the project in ministry will remain the same. The reduction in hours will come in the professional development component, which will be reduced from six to two.
“The change in the total number of hours has several important benefits,” said Randy Stone, director of the D.Ed.Min. program at the seminary. “Students can concentrate their efforts on the required seminars, workshops and projects. At the same time this move will make our degree program more appealing to prospective students who often compare us with other institutions.”
The changes in the D.Ed.Min. program will be implemented pending approval from the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, the seminary’s accrediting agency.
The plenary session of the trustees’ meeting opened with an encouraging report from seminary President Chuck Kelley. He began with a brief look back over his first 15 years as president and concluded with a glimpse into the future.
Since Kelley became president in 1996, both the seminary’s enrollment and its endowment have doubled. Kelley said the school’s academic reputation also has grown during the past 15 years. In 2005, Kelley said, The Chronicle of Higher Education quoted a study by Academic Analytics which rated NOBTS 12th in scholarly output by faculty members.
Kelley also pointed to the recovery after Hurricane Katrina as a major milestone in his first 15 years leading the seminary. The seminary enrollment has rebounded to very near pre-Katrina levels.
“This is a great, great testimony to the grace of God,” Kelley said. “But, let’s look ahead, because I am more excited about what I see ahead than what I see behind us … the best is yet to come.”
Kelley said the preliminary fall enrollment numbers are very encouraging. The number of students enrolled in the master of divinity program is the highest since Hurricane Katrina.
“That’s a very good sign,” Kelley said.” Total enrollment is on a pace to have us ahead of last year’s [enrollment].”
According to Kelley, the fall began with an encouraging faculty workshop. The workshop focused on developing skills for teaching Internet classes. Future workshops are planned to help faculty members learn new skills for teaching in the 21st century.
Kelley said the seminary will keep the course by making theological education accessible to as many God-called men and women as possible.
In conclusion, Kelley said the school is poised for additional enrollment growth over the next few years. He also expects to see increased giving from alumni and friends of the seminary.
“Our awesome God is doing an amazing work at NOBTS,” Kelley said. “Every fiber of my being, every instinct I have tells me that we are on the verge of something very special.”
Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.