THIS IS CENTRAL: Dr. Patricia L Griffen

As I get to know the Central Baptist Theological Seminary community, I want you to hear some of the amazing stories that I am hearing. To share those stories with you I am “interviewing” students, alums, faculty, staff, board members, and supporters, and each week I am sharing an interview on my blog, THIS IS CENTRAL. I invite you to join me on the journey of meeting members of our Central community.

Today’s interview is with Dr. Patricia L. Griffen, a member of Central’s board of trustees.

PD: Pat, tell us a bit about your Central origin story. How did you come to be connected to Central and to serve on its board of trustees?

PG: My first introduction to Central Baptist Theological Seminary was during my term on the Coordinating Council for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas (CBFAR). Central Seminary is a line item in our budget, and I am pleased to announce that since serving on the board of trustees, CBFAR has increased its annual contribution to Central. Through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, I met former president Molly Marshall. Dr. Marshall has been a strong supporter of CBFAR, a guest speaker during our Spring Conference, and an invited guest preacher at New Millennium Church in Little Rock where I am a member. My husband and I hosted Molly in our home for Sunday dinner and conversation following worship at New Millennium. For generations, my family has hosted the preacher for Sunday dinner following worship.

It was over lunch on February 2017 when Dr. Marshall asked if I would consider joining the Board of Trustees. I was rather taken aback as I had never considered serving on a seminary board. My mother had passed the previous December, and after several years as her caregiver, I made a personal commitment not to take on any additional responsibilities for a year. I shared this decision with Molly and thought that was the end of the discussion. Much to my surprise, almost a year to the date Molly contacted me about my decision. I had never visited Central and informed Molly that I would like to visit the campus. My husband had been conferred the Doctor of Divinity (honorary) on May 14, 2017, by Central, but I was unable to attend the Commencement service.

In July 2018 I made my first visit to the campus. I received the royal tour, learned more about Central’s history, and met all the members of the leadership team and staff. After prayerful consideration, I accepted the invitation to join the board. The process moved quickly, and the following November 2018, I attended my first board meeting

Since joining the board, I have been appointed to the Academic Committee under the leadership of Chairperson Gail Ashby, Dr. Robert Johnson, and Mr. Stephen Guinn. This committee affords an insightful view of Central’s programs, demographic information, program locations, etc. During my first meeting I learned that no students were currently enrolled from Arkansas. Immediately, I contacted Dr. Ray Higgins, coordinator of CBFAR, and expressed my concern about the lack of Arkansas student enrollment at Central. Ray agreed that it would be a good idea for CBFAR to host a meeting of pastors, lay leaders, and prospective students to meet with President Marshall. Molly is no stranger to Arkansas as she served as youth minister at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church during her early years of ministry. CBFAR hosted Molly at Second Baptist Church on May 5, 2019. The event felt like a reunion as many of the attendees knew Molly and had a long relationship with her. As a result of that meeting Central Baptist initiated a Certificate of Ministry Program through Second Baptist Church under the leadership of its pastor, Dr. Preston Clegg. Plans are to resume classes in the fall after a hiatus during COVID-19. I am encouraged about this collaboration and hopeful for the promise it holds to prepare leaders in ministry from Arkansas.

PD: Share with us about your life’s journey. 

PG: I am from Malvern, Arkansas, a small town located in the industrial belt of the state. Reynolds Aluminum had a plant in the Malvern/Hot Springs area; Acme Brick Company is located there as well as other industries. These companies offered employment opportunities for residents of Malvern, which afforded a good quality of life. I grew up in the segregated south during the Jim Crow era, so conditions were separate and unequal. I attended and graduated from an all-black school and we used second-hand books from the white schools. Nevertheless, I was nurtured by a strong loving family and community. My family lived in a small community within walking distance of the church. Everybody in our household went to church including my pet beagle who remained outside at the steps until worship service ended. My parents were actively involved in church life as well as the community. My mother was a public-school educator and church musician; my father was employed at Reynolds Aluminum and held positions of leadership in the church and community. Later in life my father went into pastoral ministry. My family generationally epitomized the passage of scripture from Matthew 25:30-40.  I grew up surrounded by servant leaders, and for this I am grateful.

I decided to become a psychologist at the age of 12, and upon graduating high school, I completed my undergraduate degree in psychology from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. It was not until I enrolled at Ouachita that I met my first psychologist, and not until I matriculated in graduate school that I met my first black psychologist, Dr. Robert L. Williams. Coincidentally, Dr. Williams was from Arkansas and a strong advocate for social justice and equality in education and mental health. Dr. Williams, or “Dr. Bob,” as I called him, continued to mentor me until his passing on August 12, 2020. He was professor emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. I am currently still in a state of deep grief over his recent passing; however, I remain eternally grateful for all Dr. Williams contributed to humanity.

Professionally, I am a clinical psychologist and have been blessed to work in various settings. Currently, I am in my 37th year as an independent, solo practitioner and the founder of Clinical Psychology Services, Inc., which I established in 1983. I am grateful for the blessing of serving humanity through my practice and continue to have a very active practice. Professionally, I am also active in the Arkansas Psychological Association, having served as its first African American president, a charter member and past president of the Arkansas Association of Black Psychology Professionals, and an advocate for social justice initiatives in the field of mental health.

My church affiliation is New Millennium in Little Rock , my husband of 45 years, Rev. Wendell Griffen, is pastor. Wendell is bi-vocational and is a circuit judge and vocally active in the area of social justice. I have served on the Coordinating Council of CBFAR and as past-moderator. My husband and I are blessed to be the parents of two sons. 

PD: What do you believe are Central’s best gifts and greatest strengths?

PG: Central’s history is one of survival through adversity and like the mythological phoenix has experienced new life out of dire circumstances. Central is organic and gives life, hope, and promise for the advancement of humanity through ministry. Central has multiple gifts, including the dedicated faculty and staff who are personally invested in theological education. Central was prepared technologically for the COVID 19 pandemic with offsite educational training platforms locally and globally.

Central is visionary. The training of women for ministry, church, and community leadership through its educational programs and especially the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) is a great strength. In June 2019 I was fortunate to travel to Cuba with the second-year cohort of WLI students. This is an amazing group of women dedicated to their call and committed to serve. In May 2020 I attended their graduation via Zoom and rejoiced with them from afar. The voice of women in church leadership is needed as never before, and Central is at the forefront with this initiative.

PD: What is bringing you joy in this hard season of COVID? What hobbies, activities, adventures, family connections are keeping you healthy?

Although I connect daily via Zoom with people from all walks of life struggling during this time with the ravages of the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, it is also a difficult time for psychologists. I have always enjoyed travel, visiting family and friends from far and near. All on hold now!!!  I continue to connect with family and friends via technology, enjoy nature prayer walks in the mornings in the quiet stillness of the day, and have the time to read more. One of my greatest joys, however, has been my grandpuppy, “Campy.”  During the shutdown, our younger son, very much an extrovert, adopted a puppy from the Humane Society. Campy has been a joy. My son and I plan visits, taking all the necessary precautions for me to spend time with Campy. He is carefree, with an even temperament and gives so much love to the family. Through Campy I am reminded of the need to continue to be joyful, have fun, and remain hopeful for the future even during these challenging times in our country.

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