The annual meeting of the NOBTS Foundation Board was held this weekend–supper Friday night at the Plimsoll Club on the 30th floor of the World Trade Center at the foot of Canal Street, and business session Saturday morning on campus at the Leavell Center. The foundation is composed of more than 70 ministers and laypersons who have gone the second mile in showing their support of the seminary. Banker Gordon Campbell of St. Petersburg, Florida, our president for the past year, presided. It was a time of fellowship and inspiration, but mostly getting updates on the seminary. Another banker, Tom Callicut, member of FBC-NO and all-around good guy, is the incoming president.
Because of the strategic importance of NOBTS to this city (i.e., to our residents, our churches, and the members of our congregations) and because so many of the readers of this blog have ties to New Orleans particularly through the seminary, I’m filing a brief version of the meeting Saturday morning.
1. The seminary campus looks radiant. It’s loveliest of all in New Orleans’ springtime. Everything has been either newly built or rebuilt, so there is nothing looking old or shoddy on this campus (other than a professor or two, but John Gibson and Charlie Ray are doing the best they can!).
2. The enrollment is healthy. Some 3,600 students are enrolled in classes, with 45 percent on campus and 55 percent at the various off-campus centers (Atlanta, Orlando, etc.). This enrollment ranks in the top five of all the years since the founding of NOBTS in 1917.
3. The five stages which our seminary has been/will be working since August 29, 2005, are: Crisis (figuring out how to survive immediately following the hurricane), Recovery (restarting normal operations), Challenge (meeting the new situations head-on and adapting to the new realities; we’re in this stage right now), Opportunities (Trying to figure out what we learned and take advantage of the lessons), and Future (planning a longterm strategy for some 8 to 10 years out).
4. The seminary’s recovery costs from Katrina will end up being some $75 million. If that sounds terrible–and it does–consider that two universities not far from our campus suffered in the hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Insurance reimbursements came to an encouraging $33 million-plus. Southern Baptist gifts to the seminary (from various entities of the denomination, churches, and individual Baptists) passed $12 million. The State of Louisiana gave each institution of higher learning $1,951,000 to help pay faculty salaries during the crisis.
No money was received from FEMA or the Bush-Clinton Katrina fund. “We have a long-standing tradition of separation of church and state,” President Chuck Kelley reminded foundation members.
5. What are the greatest needs the seminary has at the moment? Dr. Kelley gave these answers:
a. $7 million for new apartments. Right now we have a waiting list of 23 new students for apartments for next semester. Last Fall, we started the year with 30 students having to live in Providence Guest House (the seminary’s “motel” across the street from the campus) because everything was filled. The last one is moving out just now.
b. We need $5 million for an endowment to prepare us for a disaster in the future. The annual income would go for ongoing housing needs, but if a disaster struck, we would dip into the corpus and be able to respond immediately to the situation.
c. We need $400,000 to supplement faculty salaries.
d. We need $100,000 for new internet programs.
6. Where does the seminary’s money come from these days?
The SBC Cooperative Program provides 47 percent of the budget. Student fees provide 29 percent. Endowments 3 percent, and the rest is miscellaneous/”others.”
7. And what are our costs?
Faculty and staff salaries use 64 percent of the budget, utilities 8 percent, insurance 7 percent, student aid 5 percent, and “other” 16 percent.
8. How can I join the NOBTS Foundation Board?
“By making a commitment to give or raise $5,000 a year for a minimum of three years.” Interested? Contact Dr. Jerry Garrard, V-P for Institutional Advancement at the seminary. Phone 800-622-8701, ext. 3252. His e-mail address is email@example.com. (Some pastors who enlist donors able to give at or above this rate are invited to join the foundation. You don’t think I gave $5,000 a year, do you?)
Okay, having said all that….
I’ve not begun to say what this school means to me personally. A seminary is less about dollars and buildings than about students and teachers. The other things are important, to be sure, but when I remember NOBTS, I think about coming on campus from Birmingham in late June of 1964 with my young wife and one-year old son. It was almost over-whelming and I felt so honored to be there. Some readers will remember Malcolm Tolbert and George Harrison from those years. Dr. Tolbert taught us the history of missions that first summer and Dr. Harrison a survey of the Old Testament. There were no finer teachers, before or since.
I made friends of professors and classmates which are strong to this day. We’re almost like brothers when we get together, and the years of separation disappear in a moment. Missionary Jerry Perrill, professor Jerry Windsor, seminary president Paige (and Dorothy) Patterson were in my class (or I was in theirs, same difference). Dorothy was a better student than Paige, but don’t tell him I said that. (I sat beside Chuck Kelley’s lovely mother at lunch today, Saturday, and told her that. She’s Dorothy’s mom, of course. We had a laugh.) Director of Missions Joe Baugh was in our class, also Pastor Vaughan Pruitt, Pastor Hugh Martin, and so many others I can’t count. Each of them a treasured friend.
Seminary pushed me to grow in directions I would never have attempted otherwise. Each Friday night, a group of us drove down to the French Quarter and preached/witnessed on the street near Jackson Square. I learned Hebrew and Greek, and found that studying the history of the Christian church through the ages was so fascinating. We preached in class in front of one another, almost dying of fright in the process. In chapel, we heard some of the most successful preachers and brilliant thinkers of that generation. Billionaire H. L. Hunt spoke, as did Carlyle Marney, Baker James Cauthen, Clark Pinnock, and the lead pilot of the Japanese force that bombed Pearl Harbor, whose name I’ve forgotten but who had converted to Jesus Christ. I have vivid memories of every one of these and so many others.
It may well be that the best thing seminary offers, however, is none of the above. The opportunity to sit around between classes with fellow students who are struggling with the same subjects, facing the same tests, working the same mindless part-time jobs, and desperately hoping to get out of school and pastor churches–that may be the most important aspect of any seminary education. You are forever bonded at the deepest level. I’ll go so far as to say that any theological education that does not provide opportunities for students to get together and brainstorm, share, bellyache, play, encourage, and bless is failing its students seriously.
Our seminary’s website is www.nobts.edu. One of the best features is the privilege of clicking on and hearing messages preached in chapel. In fact, it’s better than being there, because if it happens that you picked a boring sermon, you can end it and go to another. We couldn’t do that in my day! You’re so lucky.
If you think to pray for the president, trustees, faculty and students of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, you’ll be blessing the next generation of the Lord’s people. If you want to learn more about how to assist the seminary in educating tomorrow’s leaders, check out their website and contact them.