By Aaron Weaver
The Baptist Seminary of Kentucky (BSK), a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partner theological school, announced Tuesday that it will establish offices and begin offering a Master of Divinity degree in West Louisville at Simmons College of Kentucky, an historically black college (HBCU) beginning with the Spring 2018 semester.
Simmons College has a rich history, tracing its roots to 1865 when just months after the end of the Civil War the Kentucky State Convention of Colored Baptist Churches proposed establishing the state’s first post-secondary school for its black citizens. Simmons President Kevin Cosby is part of the Fellowship and was featured last year in fellowship! magazine for his efforts leading EmpowerWest, a coalition of black and white clergy, which includes Cooperative Baptists, pursuing racial reconciliation and justice together in Louisville.
CBF joins Dr. Cosby and Simmons College on September 11 as sponsors of the Angela Project Summit in Louisville. This event is the first of a series of three summits to take place over the course of the next three years as part of The Angela Project. The Angela Project aims to assist African-American institutions and promote African-American prosperity, and will commemorate the 400th anniversary of black enslavement in the United States in 2019. Other partners in The Angela Project and sponsors of the September 11 summit include the National Baptist Convention of America International Inc. and the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Learn more about the summit and how to attend here.
I recently interviewed Dr. David Cassady, the new president of Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, about BSK’s partnership and presence with Simmons College. Below is our conversation:
Aaron Weaver: For those not familiar with Baptist Seminary of Kentucky (BSK), will you share with our readers a little about the history of your seminary and what led BSK leaders to make this decision to establish offices and offer a Master of Divinity degree in West Louisville at Simmons College?
David Cassady: Nearly two years ago, Dr. Kevin Cosby at Simmons College began discussing the idea of having a seminary on campus. He and other leaders came and met with our Board of Trustees early in the conversation, laying out a vision for this sort of collaboration. Last year, BSK began offering a few classes on the Simmons campus. The experience has been incredibly positive for our students and faculty.
BSK is focused on supporting the work of the church. We see ourselves as playing an important role in the ecosystem of the church—both in providing a place where ministers can come to learn about the witness of the Christian tradition, but also where they can cultivate practices of faithful ministry.
This was the question that compelled us to move more rapidly to be present in Louisville: If the world into which ministry happens is increasingly diverse, how do we best posture BSK to do that more effectively? The answer is hard to ignore.
And, a presence in Louisville also clearly makes the BSK approach to theological education more available to the wider Louisville area and even Southern Indiana. We already have students from across the country who have found BSK a good fit for their journey, and hope that appeal is broadened by our location on the campus of an HBCU.
Weaver: You said in BSK’s announcement that “it is critical we go beyond talking about racial reconciliation and live into it.” We often discuss racial reconciliation in terms of personal relationships and church-to-church relationships, but not in the context of theological education. What do you hope “living into” racial reconciliation will look like in a seminary environment?
Cassady: In academia we like to talk about ideas and concepts, and that’s a worthy exercise. But we also believe practice informs scholarship. Sure, we offer courses and events relating to social justice, but there’s only so far that will take us.
We think of it this way: It’s one thing to talk about what it means to be a good neighbor. It’s another thing to actually be a neighbor. We are striving to make that kind of leap. And so we believe our presence at Simmons will mature our faith and help us better educate and form ministers, chaplains and teachers for what is a rapidly changing world.
Seminaries are often thought of as repositories of information that we then impart or share with students. But at BSK we genuinely see ourselves as fellow learners on this journey. Yes, we have experienced and well-educated faculty, but our interest is in forming persons for a life-long journey in which theological reflection shapes the very ways we practice ministry. Being at Simmons will and should shape both how we teach, and the very content we offer.
So, in many ways we are entering into this place with more questions than answers. We are coming to Louisville in a learning posture. We have several beginning questions, such as:
- How might the things we learn through being in Simmons’ space, in West Louisville—help white and black churches that are also looking for ways to live and serve more powerfully—together?
- What are the ways our approach to theological education needs to grow and change in order to benefit from the rich tradition and wisdom of the black church? How might our current practices in theological education carry assumptions of white culture that need to be reevaluated?
- How might the role of the seminary need to shift toward increasingly being a place where knowledge is applied and practiced in service to the church? How can we better be a resource to churches searching to revitalize and reimagine ministry?
- How can the things BSK learns in this process help us support churches also seeking to learn presence in black space?
As we live into this relationship, new questions will arise. BSK is committed to sharing what we learn in the coming years, to the benefit of higher education and the church.
Weaver: Simmons College President Dr. Kevin Cosby noted in the announcement that racial integration “has always been a unilateral process where blacks move into white space.” What does it mean to the BSK community to take part in reversing this historically paternalistic model and locate to a HBCU school—a school like Simmons College with such a rich history.
Cassady: It means we need what Simmons and West Louisville has to offer. We need them far more than they need us. We are there to learn as much as to teach. The richness of their culture, tradition and values will strengthen BSK and our students. We will stumble, say clumsy things and make mistakes. But already, we have experienced our friends at Simmons to be full of grace and eager to welcome us into their community. It is a gift and a blessing to be among this good and faithful community. In the end, it is about learning to walk together, in a space that may have different rules, cues and markers than white space. It means listening more than talking. It means being open to self-reflection to discover how we can become closer together.
From an academic viewpoint, it also means reevaluating our approach to theological education with sensitivity to those places where our approaches carry assumptions rooted in white culture and traditions. BSK must also become more diverse as a faculty and community.
Weaver: As seminaries and divinity schools across the United States face growing challenges, what is your hope for the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky and your hope for this new partnership with Simmons College and presence in West Louisville?
Cassady: The challenges faced by seminaries and divinity schools are real—in particular financial ones. And yet, the entrepreneur in me knows that challenging times are also times of opportunity. They cause us to think in fresh ways, to try new things, and to be increasingly open to the leadership of the Spirit. I am convinced that God is already at work doing a new thing, and our job is to pay attention and join in that work, even though it may look quite different than before. Our collaboration with Simmons is one of the ways we are attempting to join in God’s work of racial reconciliation and social justice. We have no idea how this experience will ultimately shape us, but we are wildly optimistic that it will be profound, surprising and good.
Divinity schools bring a rich set of assets to the task. We have insightful and talented faculty, passionate alumni waist-deep in the practice of ministry, and partner churches and donors that want to see vibrant churches offering relevant ministries in a changing world. Our job is to put these assets to work in creative ways in service to Christ. The Holy Spirit is in no way finished with the work of creation in our communities and world.
Learn more about the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky at www.bsk.edu