I am thankful for the warm welcome I’ve received from the Central community in my first week and deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve as the seminary’s next president. Last week was filled with conversations and meetings, many of which were virtual. I met with seminary leadership and staff. I attended briefly two Doctor of Ministry classes. But I also had a few visitors who came to my office, wearing face masks, bringing chocolate and more chocolate, sharing flowers, and offering socially distanced hugs. It was a good, good first week.
Those who know me well will not be surprised that last week I also took a few moments to read a few chapters of James A. Wright’s 1951 dissertation, "A History of Central Baptist Seminary.” As a historian, I needed to know more about this seminary to which I’ve been called. I learned some interesting facts about Central’s founding days. Wright began his dissertation, “In 1900 there was no Baptist seminary west of the Mississippi River. Men of vision saw the need of such a school in this great Midwestern section, and after much prayer founded the Kansas City Baptist Theological Seminary.”* Wright noted that “The brethren had a deep conviction” and led by Rev. Evan B. Meredith, missionary secretary of the Kansas Baptist State Convention, they set out to raise funds, secure property, and enlist partners in the work.
Yet it was a sister, Joanna Barber Lovelace, who provided much of the funds needed to begin the seminary and to continue its work in its earliest years. In 1900 Joanna, a committed Baptist, concluded that the very best use of money she had inherited from her first husband, Merrick K. Barber, was to invest it in the training of ministers. She pledged $2,000 to help found a new school and eventually established the “Merrick K. Barber Memorial Fund,” and deeded to the school 115 acres of land in Turner, Kansas. At her death in 1921 the Kansas City Kansan reported that her estate gift to the seminary was valued from $130,000 to $150,000.**
What I have learned this week is that Central has been the beneficiary of the leadership and gifts and vision of both the brethren and the sisters from its earliest days and that it took all of them working together to live into that shared vision for a seminary in the Midwest. For that rich lesson from history I am profoundly grateful.
Here we are 119 years later, and that original vision lives on. Central continues to train ministers and to serve the Midwest region of the United States, but the seminary’s reach is now much broader. Students from around the world now enroll in Central’s programs, and the seminary is no longer a building in Kansas but a worldwide community of learning that stretches beyond borders. The current faculty, staff, and students bring to this learning community such beautiful diversity—coming from different geographical locations, generations, genders, and theological affiliations and perspectives.
This week I heard powerful stories from Doctor of Ministry students, many of whom are from Myanmar, about the ministries in which they are serving, the churches they are pastoring, the non-profits they are leading. I quickly realized that there are stories from the Central community that need to be heard—not just by me but by all who love and are committed to this school. To share those stories with you I will “interview” students, alums, faculty, staff, board members, supporters, and each week will share an interview with you on this new blog titled THIS IS CENTRAL. I look forward to getting to know this community, and I invite you to join me on the journey.
*James A. Wright, “A History of Central Baptist Seminary,” Doctor of Theology diss. (Central Baptist Theological Seminary, 1951).
**Kansas City Kansan, July 28, 1921.