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Woman behind Seminary Ext. celebrates 30 years of service


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Seminary Extension classes still meet a vital need in across the Southern Baptist Convention, Vivian Buttrey said. And who should know better than her?

This year Buttrey celebrated her 30th anniversary with Seminary Extension, a ministry of the six theological seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention based in Nashville, Tenn.

Seminary Extension offers both diploma-level (which can be used for college credit) and certificate-level basic courses through independent study, classrooms in extension centers and the Internet.

Buttrey, manager of extension center education, is the one constant in an office that has seen numerous changes since she first joined the staff in 1976. She has served under four directors and she estimated that she has worked with more than 4,000 extension center directors and teachers over the 30-year period.

One of those directors, Dennis Pulley, director of missions for the Cumberland Baptist Association based in Clarksville, Tenn., refers to Buttrey as “Miss Seminary Extension.”

“Nobody has a heart for Seminary Extension like she does,” said Pulley, who took his first Seminary Extension course at the age of 16 and has taught courses in four different Baptist associations in Tennessee. “She has done so much through the years for Seminary Extension and has not gotten recognition for it.”

Both Pulley and Buttrey agree that Seminary Extension is one of the best kept secrets in the SBC. It basically meets the needs of people who, for whatever reasons, likely will never attend seminary, Buttrey said.

“We don’t want those students who could go to seminary. We want those who will never go,” she said.

Currently there are 350 active Seminary Extension centers across the United States, Buttrey said. Through her 30-year ministry she has seen nearly 40,000 students take courses.

“We offer training students cannot get elsewhere,” she said. “Seminary Extension can go wherever the student is.”

Classes are not just for ministers or those preparing for ministry, Buttrey and Pulley stressed. The courses are also helpful to laypeople, particularly Sunday School teachers, deacons and others who serve in leadership roles. More than two-thirds of the current students are laypeople.

Pulley said he has had lawyers, business managers and even college deans take courses.

“We have had a variety of people in Seminary Extension classes,” he said, noting that people can get a quality education at a nominal cost.

Buttrey said they have had college students take one or two courses and transfer them for college credit to complete a degree because courses are transferable at the receiving college’s discretion.

In fact, Judson College, which is affiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention, will accept 30 hours of Seminary Extension courses in their extended degree program, Buttrey said.

Seminary Extension is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council and many diploma courses have been evaluated and recommended for college credit by the ACE College Credit Recommendation Service.

Classes can meet the needs of almost everyone, Buttrey said, because people can study anytime, anywhere, any way they choose.

Buttrey, a member of Bellevue Baptist Church in Nashville, said her position with Seminary Extension allowed her to fulfill a call to full-time Christian vocation that she felt as a teenager.

She noted that the thing she enjoys most about her role is seeing results of people who take courses and how God has blessed them in ministry. She also has developed lasting friendships with untold numbers of “telephone friends,” people she has never met but communicates with on a regular basis.

“Vivian is beloved by people who have not met her other than on the telephone,” Pulley said. “Every place I go people speak very highly of Vivian. She is more knowledgeable of Seminary Extension than anyone in the SBC.”
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For more information about Seminary Extension, call (615) 242-2453.

    About the Author

  • Lonnie Wilkey
    Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (baptistandreflector.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.Read All by Lonnie Wilkey ›