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Kelley outlines future plans for New Orleans Seminary
--By Doy Cave & Debbie Moore
     ATLANTA, June 16--With 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches plateaued or declining and almost 10,000 Southern Baptist churches failing to report a single baptism in 1998, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley said seminary leaders made three fundamental decisions this year:
-- embrace the seminary's urban environment.
-- let the needs of local churches shape the curriculum.
-- make theological education as accessible as possible to as many people as possible.
      Kelley said these decisions led the seminary to a definite plan for the future, which he outlined for NOBTS alumni and friends visiting Atlanta for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention June 16. The luncheon meeting, attended by more than 400, was held in the Georgia World Congress Center. Kelley cited a new campus master plan for renovating the entire campus over the next 20 years. Implementation will increase the school's housing capacity and make much-needed repairs to several buildings. Transformation of the seminary curriculum around a list of seven competencies is in process, he said. The curriculum includes not only the basics of Greek, Hebrew and philosophy, but also interpersonal relationship skills.
"He who thinks he is leading when nobody is following is only out for a walk," Kelley said. "And what we realized is that if we want to see our churches turn around, we're going to have to give our students basic leadership skills: organizing, planning, working with people and effective servant leadership."
     The new curriculum, which goes into effect Aug. 1, also includes a mentoring program that will require all new students to break into small groups led by a seminary faculty member. "For one year, they will meet with that faculty member once a week to walk together with Jesus through the study of the Word and teaching, and to become godly men and women." The curriculum change also includes new degrees, such as the doctor of educational ministries.
Kelley also reported on the new Baptist College Partnership Program, designed to encourage the study of theology and ministry in the 53 Baptist colleges and give college students entering seminary the chance to earn up to 16 hours of credit through testing and workshops. Finally, to meet the needs of families entering seminary, Kelley said NOBTS recently received its first donation for an educational scholarship endowment for seminary children. Seminary enrollment currently stands at 2,355 for total credit enrollment, up about 8 percent from the previous year, with five more enrollment dates before the conclusion of the 1998-99 academic year July 31.
Kelley closed the session by encouraging participants to support the seminary in every way they can, "as we put all our efforts into being that place that will raise a generation to make this denomination grow again."
     The seminary's 1999 distinguished alumni awards were presented to C. Ferris Jordan of Baton Rouge, La., retired professor of adult education, and Harold and Barbara O'Chester of Austin, Texas, the first couple to receive the award. Jordan, who taught at NOBTS from 1978-98, was not only a professor who specialized in adult education and gerontology, but also was the seminary's liaison with the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC), chairman of the division of Christian education ministries, chairman of Kelley's inaugural committee and interim provost. Before joining the NOBTS faculty, Jordan pioneered Southern Baptist church work in Indiana and Illinois in the 1960s.
     A minister more than 40 years, Jordan said, "My years at NOBTS have been like the culmination of my call to ministry. Coming here showed me how God uses one experience in life as a link to another." The O'Chesters, both NOBTS graduates, have been at Great Hills Baptist Church, Austin, Texas, for 30 years, with Harold as pastor and Barbara as director of Great Hills Retreat, Southern Baptists' largest retreat ministry for women, annually hosting more than 20,000. For many years, their ministry has focused on ministers' marriages and families. This year at NOBTS they raised the money to endow a new annual week-long emphasis and lecture series on the minister's family which Kelley has named in their honor.
"I probably owe my life to the student body of New Orleans Seminary," said Harold O'Chester, who nearly died from injuries received during a car accident during his first semester at the seminary. His first wife and two children were killed in the accident. "I definitely owe everything I am today to the background and training I received at NOBTS."
Officers for 1999-2000 are: Bill Pope, president, pastor of Piedmont Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga.; L. Wright Eavenson, president-elect, pastor of Trinity Park First Baptist Church, Trinity Park, Ill.; Bob Christian, treasurer, pastor of Dutchtown Baptist Church, Prairieville, La.; Dan Nelson, secretary, pastor of First Baptist Church, Camarillo, Calif.; and Ken Gabrielse, music fellowship chairman, NOBTS chairman of the department of church music ministries.

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