The heart of theological education is found in the interplay between teachers and students and administrators engaged in the education process itself. That process, however, is has to be paid for. Somebody has to foot the bill, and students are often the least prepared to afford it. In the absence of huge bequests or major denominational funding to keep them afloat, seminaries and divinity schools depend heavily on scholarship funds to assist students in paying the tuition needed to keep the ship afloat.
A lack of funds or students can lead to considerable pain, something the good folks at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond are facing. A lower enrollment combined with the high cost of a stand-alone seminary, along with some financial overreaching in the purchase of additional property, is forcing that school to make significant cutbacks in its faculty and staff.
On a more positive note, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC) has had good success in creating a long-term endowment fund to provide scholarships for North Carolina Baptist students attending one of the state’s four CBF-related divinity schools (the Baptist House at Duke University, Campbell University Divinity School, the M. Christopher White School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University, and Wake Forest University Divinity School), or divinity schools in other states.
At a banquet at Raleigh’s First Baptist Church April 10, participants learned that the fund has already received pledges and gifts of more than $250,000, and were encouraged to contribute more. The Lolley Fund for Theological Education is named for Randall Lolley, former president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his wife, Lou. The current total includes the value of a mountain cabin near Banner Elk that the Lolleys are donating to the fund.
Scholarships can be promoted on other levels, as well. Many churches have found providing scholarships to be an important ministry. Todd Blake, who gave a testimony at the Lolley Fund banquet, earned his undergraduate degree at Campbell University before going on to complete his MDiv. studies at the Campbell University Divinity School. Blake noted that Mount Pisgah Baptist Church in Fayetteville, is such a strong supporter of Campbell that the church has raised more than $300,000 over the past 20 years to support two endowed scholarship funds for students at Campbell: the Rufus Warren Johnson scholarship is primarily for undergraduates, and the Howard Daniel Williams scholarship if specifically for the divinity school.
Mount Pisgah raises funds for the scholarships with an annual barbecue: the next one is scheduled for May 3 (corrected date): Facebook users can get more details here.
Several divinity school students at the banquet spoke briefly about how crucial scholarship money has been to them — and how meaningful their theological education has been.
Twenty years after control of Southeastern seminary — to be followed by all the other Southern Baptist seminaries — was taken by conservatives bent on turning theological education in other directions, no less than 14 new theological schools or programs for Baptist students have gotten underway.
There’s a world of need out there — a world that needs pastors and other ministers with a sound theological training. There’s also a world of need for finances to provide that all-important training.
I trust you’ll do your part.