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Women’s ministry certificate to be offered at New Orleans


NEW ORLEANS (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has become the first Southern Baptist seminary to offer formal, specialized training in women’s ministry, a burgeoning area of local church ministry as women on church staffs or volunteers meet the needs of women.
Unique features of the program, begun March 17, include both its format and structure, according to NOBTS President Chuck Kelley.
The format is a certificate program, allowing women without a college degree to take the women’s ministry courses, as well as women who have a seminary degree but have had no opportunity to specialize in their field of ministry, Kelley told seminary trustees March 12.
Another unique feature is the structure of program, designed to allow women to commute for short periods of time. Classes will be offered during convenient three- and five-day academic workshops, as opposed to semester- or term-length classes, over a two-year period. Classes may be taken for academic credit or as continuing education courses.
“This is really an answer to prayer for me — and for many others, I’m sure,” starts one of several letters Rhonda Harrington Kelley has received since the middle of February from women across the United States as plans were being finalized for the start of the new program.
Kelley, wife of NOBTS President Kelley, developed the concept for the program and, with Chris Adams, Baptist Sunday School Board women’s enrichment ministry specialist, played a major role in the creation of the first textbook just released by the BSSB publishing arm Lifeway, “Women Reaching Women: Beginning and Building a Growing Women’s Enrichment Ministry.”
The first course, “Women’s Work in the Local Church,” is one of two required courses in the program. The other required course is a women’s ministry project. Four additional elective courses complete the certificate. The next course, “Recreational Programs for Women,” will be offered May 19-21.
Until this time, the only training available to women who either were working in or wanted to start a women’s ministry program in their churches was by attending the occasional conferences or clinics recently begun to be offered by the Baptist Sunday School Board, by reading what they could find or by asking others already involved in a church’s women’s ministry.
Rhonda Kelley has been involved on the national denominational level with women’s ministry efforts since 1992 when she was asked to be a part of the SBC’s Women’s Ministry Study Group as a need was sensed for some coordination to be developed. In 1993 she was named as one of 10 women on the advisory council of the BSSB’s Women’s Ministry Enrichment Council. She was assigned to write the technical research paper used to structure the program and determine the budget for the BSSB. Her paper, which also includes a history of the women’s ministry movement, was the basis for “Women Reaching Women,” the BSSB’s handbook on women’s ministry.
Kelley wrote the introduction and the chapter on meeting the needs of women through groups.
“Women’s ministry is the passion of my heart,” said Kelley, who has doctor of philosophy degree in special education and speech pathology from the University of New Orleans. Before devoting her full attention to developing and encouraging women’s ministry programs in local churches across the United States, Kelley was director of the division of communicative disorders for Ochsner Medical Institutions in New Orleans from 1981-93. She started as a staff speech and language pathologist at Ochsner in 1978 and was at New Orleans’ Children’s Hospital from 1975-77.
While a full-time career woman, in 1991 Kelley started a women’s ministry at her church, First Baptist in New Orleans; she still serves as coordinator. She has taught weekday women’s Bible study classes at her church since 1983. Since 1990 she has been a member of the national Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Also active in local church missions education efforts, Kelley has been First Baptist’s Woman’s Missionary Union director and has served continually since 1982 as the church’s director of Girls-in-Action, a missions education program of the WMU for school-age girls.
In November 1996, while attending the BSSB’s Women’s Ministry Metro Conference for churches with 1,000 or more in Sunday school, Kelley “heard passionate pleas” from women for seminary training in women’s ministry. “When are our seminaries going to provide training?” she was asked.
“I came back and told (her husband) Chuck of the great need,” Kelley said. “He told me we already had the structure in place with our certificate program and academic workshops. So I put a proposal together for our academic affairs committee, which was accepted, then it was presented to the full faculty for a vote in February, which was unanimous. And now we’re ready to begin!”
For more information on the women’s ministry certificate program, including a brochure, a full course listing and a two-year schedule, contact New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at 1-800-NOBTS-01, ext. 3588, or by e-mail at [email protected]

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  • Debbie Moore