New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary opens N. Ga hub

Published:09/11/2007

By Ashley Hungerford
Marietta Daily Journal Staff Writer

MARIETTA - Students, professors, administrators and alumni packed the chapel at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church on Monday for a dedication service of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary North Georgia Regional Hub.

The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, an accreditation agency for seminaries, approved turning the former extension campus into a campus hub in June. While school already is in session, administrators expect to offer new and more extensive courses for the spring semester.

The 400 students now enrolled in fall semester at the North Georgia hub also will enjoy a larger faculty and an ability to complete more coursework at the North Georgia campus at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church.

Students now can learn 18 of the required 30 hours in one of the hub's programs. The remaining 12 hours - including at least one three-hour mission or disaster relief course to help rebuild New Orleans - must be completed at the main campus in Louisiana.

"We are committed to giving you the finest of theological education we can," Seminary President Dr. Charles S. Kelley said. "We have a passionate commitment about accessibility."

The North Georgia hub offers a basic master of divinity degree, the master of divinity church ministry track, and the basic master's in Christian education.

A new program to the hub, Dr. Michael Sharp will teach courses for the master's in worship studies. The 53-hour program that begins in January prepares worship ministers to serve in churches.

Dr. Steve Lemke, seminary provost, also announced that the school's accrediting agency approved a special pilot program, creating "an innovative doctorate program," with Christian education, which will allow students to take more classes at the North Georgia hub. The hub will offer doctorate courses, but not the entire degree.

The hub also will offer seminary classes to inmates at Phillips State Prison in Buford, Ga.

At Monday's dedication ceremony, Kelley talked with seminary students about their mission and dedication to study theology.

"It doesn't matter how accessible theological education is unless you do it," he said. "Putting in the effort to really learn the Bible; it all comes down to your passion and commitment."

He encouraged students to learn from the example of Johnson Ferry Baptist, the seminary, and the Georgia Baptist Convention, which worked together to expand the North Georgia campus.

"The center of southern Baptist is (that) we learn we can do together far more than we can do individually," he said. "When you work in partnership with other churches, you are able to multiply the impact."

The North Georgia seminary program began in 1979 at Roswell Street Baptist Church with Dr. Nelson Price. Over the years, the extension service grew and moved before settling at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church. Monday's dedication was a celebration for the campus' new hub status.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf coast in August 2005, many New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary faculty and administrators moved to metro-Atlanta.

With some help from the Georgia Baptist Convention, about 100 people found a place to stay in Atlanta while New Orleans recuperated. The New Orleans's campus resumed classes in January 2006.

Dr. Steve Echols, director of the North Georgia hub, said it made them realize the need for a more decentralized campus, and the seminary school was "able to survive" with extension campuses like North Georgia. He said 45 percent of seminary students take courses off the main campus.

Echols said the North Georgia hub boasts seven faculty professors, approximately 40 adjunct professors and 12 support staff. The campus will serve students in Georgia and Alabama, many of whom already are in full-time ministry. Enrollment at the hub is expected to reach 500 students.

The seminary operates one other hub in Orlando, Fla., that Dr. Jimmy Dukes directs.

ahungerford@mdjonline.com

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