NOBTS North Georgia hub dedicated at Johnson Ferry

By J. Gerald Harris

Published: September 27, 2007

MARIETTA — New Orleans Seminary was greatly impacted by Hurricane Katrina when it passed east of the Crescent City on Aug. 29, 2005. The winds were in the Category 3 range, but the tidal surge was equivalent to that of a Category 5 hurricane. The storm surge caused levee breaches and flooded much of the city including the seminary property.

Many people tied to the New Orleans seminary took refuge in Atlanta, where the school had already established an extension-learning center. The Georgia Baptist Convention helped provide housing for nearly 100 seminary administrators, faculty, and students.

When students, professors, administrators, and friends of the seminary gathered at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta on Sept. 10 for the dedication of the New Orleans Seminary’s North Georgia hub, seminary President Church Kelly stated, “Out of Katrina came the idea for a North Georgia Seminary hub.”

The Association of Theological Schools, an accreditation agency for seminaries, approved turning the former extension center into a campus hub in June. The present semester at the new hub has approximately 400 students, but a wider range of courses is planned for the spring semester; and the school expects to have a student population of 500 within the next few years.

The seminary hub is different from an extension center because it will provide a larger faculty and the opportunity for students to complete more coursework. Students will be able to take all but 12 hours of credit in one of the hub’s degree programs.

New Orleans Seminary initiated a North Georgia extension of its campus almost 30 years ago at Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta with the assistance of Nelson Price. More recently the seminary’s classes have been held at Columbia Drive Baptist Church in Decatur and for a brief time at Atlanta’s First Baptist Church.

Kelly stated, “Forty-five percent of our student body is in our extension centers, but our goal, regardless of the delivery system, is that every student will have the same training. Our great passion is to make theological education accessible to a larger number of students.”

New Orleans Seminary President Chuck Kelly, left, and Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Director J. Robert White, foreground, listen during services recognizing the NOBTS North Georgia hub at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta. Pictured between them is Nelson Price who served as pastor of Roswell Street Baptist in Marietta 30 years ago when the seminary first established an extension campus in Georgia. Beside him is his wife Trudy.

The North Georgia hub will provide support and additional resources to the seminary’s extension centers in Albany and Birmingham, Ala. Additionally, the hub will offer seminary courses to inmates at Phillips State Prison in Buford.

Doug Simmons, director of chaplaincy for the Georgia Department of Corrections, was present for the dedication and expressed delight over the prospect of having prison inmates involved in seminary education. He remarked, “We will begin with 25 students in December and will offer the students an Associate or Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Ministry.”

Kelly stated that the seminary already has classes underway at Parchman Prison in Mississippi and Angola Prison in Louisiana. He reported, “Ours is the only seminary that has an educational system in effect in a maximum security prison.

“Angola has been known as the bloodiest prison in the country. There are 5,000 men incarcerated there and 90-95 percent of them will die there. We have had four graduating classes at Angola in 12 years and the violence rate has dropped by 70 percent.

“We are grateful to Georgia Baptists for all that they have done to help us through the Katrina crisis and all that they continue to do to bless our seminary.

“What lies at the center of the Southern Baptist genius is that we have learned that we can do together what we could never do apart,” Kelly added. “When you work in partnership, you can accomplish more than what any one of us can do alone regardless of how great that one may be.”

J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, speaking at the dedication, said, “I cannot think of a more wonderful model for the students at the North Georgia hub for the New Orleans Seminary than Johnson Ferry Baptist Church. The pastor, Bryant Wright, is a gracious and humble servant of our Lord.”

White continued, “This church has been second among Georgia Baptist churches for the past five years in missions support with over $3,208,000 given to the Cooperative Program and with that amount being matched in gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Additionally, the Johnson Ferry Church has had over 1,400 of its members engaged in short-term mission trips in the past year and plan to involve over 1,500 in the coming year.”

Kelly expressed gratitude to Johnson Ferry Church for their graciousness and willingness to sacrifice in order to make the NOBTS hub in North Georgia a success.

The NOBTS president commented, “Southern Baptists have only two requirements to serve a Southern Baptist Church: First, one must be saved and second, one must be called. No one has to have a theological education to minister in Southern Baptist life, but it does make a difference.”

Kelly concluded, “We are not talking about having a piece of paper hanging on your wall or walking across the stage to shake the hands of the president at a graduation ceremony. We are talking about preparing for excellence in ministry.”

Steve Echols, director of the North Georgia hub, was quoted by the Marietta Daily Journal as saying that the school had seven faculty professors, approximately 40 adjunct professors and 12 support staff. The campus will serve students in Georgia and Alabama. New Orleans has another hub in Orlando, Fla., where Jimmie Dukes is the director.

At the banquet that followed the dedication service, Gail Wilkins, the widow of Stan Wilkins, presented Kelly with a check for $18,000 for the Stan Wilkins Memorial Scholarship Fund at NOBTS. The money was raised at a car show and motorcycle ride sponsored by First Baptist Church in Cartersville where Wilkins was serving as interim pastor at the time of his death.

Copyright © 2008, The Christian Index, All rights reserved, Unless otherwise noted.
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