By Paul Baxley
As the final graduation approaches at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond this weekend, my mind has been on that night 16 years ago when I completed my Doctor of Ministry program and became an alumnus of that incredible school. I still remember attending both the graduation banquet on Friday night in Lingle Hall on the Brook Road campus of BTSR, and I remember the Saturday morning commencement at First Baptist Church of Richmond.
The guest speaker for the banquet in May 2003 was Lou Lolley. I can still hear her reminding us that we ministers can waste a whole lot of time trying to be who we are not. And then I remember the moment I received a towel with my name on it—by then a longtime tradition at BTSR—a compelling reminder that the call to ministry was not a grab for power but instead a life of service to Christ, His Church and the world. In these days, that reminder is even more powerful than it was when I first received it.
Years later, that towel is visibly present in my office at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, just as it has been displayed in every office I have occupied since that May night in 2003. When I look at it, I still remember the lessons I was taught, the grace given me in the BTSR community and the essential nature of vocation. There is no doubt that my experience at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, both as a student and as a staff member, was life-changing and faith-forming. Lessons learned from faculty and conversations with fellow students remain a powerful part of my practice of ministry to this day. I am a different minister and a more faithful Christian because of my time in that community.
This week, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond will hold its final commencement. Faculty, staff, alumni and friends will gather at First Baptist Church on Saturday morning. Across the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and beyond, many more will pause, remember, grieve and give thanks.
This week, I invite all Cooperative Baptists to join me in offering prayers of gratitude for the courageous dreamers who decided more than 30 years ago to start a new school from nothing except deep faith and the unshakeable conviction that the calling and training of ministers is holy work congregations are not given alone, but that which must be pursued through the very best kind of cooperation. Offer prayers of gratitude for the ministers within our Fellowship and beyond who received their training at BTSR. Remember with gratitude the extraordinary teachers who served on the faculty of BTSR from its first class until its last. Be thankful for the generosity of individuals and congregations that made BTSR possible.
At the same time, I ask you to join me in offering prayers of intercession for faculty members whose teaching careers were interrupted by the closing of the school and for students who, in the midst of earning their degrees, had to find new places to study. Pray that new opportunities will soon emerge.
And pray for alumni and friends of BTSR, who this week are grieving the loss of a community deeply loved. Like all kinds of grief, this moment is filled with questions and a search for peace. So pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit not only on those who gather in Richmond, but on those who are grieving this moment in many different places.
As a Fellowship, the final graduation of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond provides both a call to prayer and remembrance, while also requiring that we ask ourselves challenging questions. Once again, we face important decisions about how deeply we will commit to the calling, preparing, blessing and strengthening of new generations of women and men whom God is calling to lead the Church in the decades to come. Will we summon the courage, the conviction, the generosity and the vision to discern and enact new ways of cooperating for this holy purpose? What kind of relationship between congregations, ministers and schools is required now?
Questions like these will be before us in the days ahead. But in this week, let us pause and remember the grace that has been given us in Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.
And if you doubt it, or if you seek signs of all the ways the Holy Spirit still works through the act of daring faith that was the establishment of BTSR, just imagine all the studies, offices and homes today in which you will find prominently displayed towels with names on them.
Rev. Dr. Paul Baxley serves as the Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. Learn more at www.cbf.net.