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 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 Karen M. Dames, a student at Central Seminary.
PD: Karen, tell us your Central origin story. How did you come to be a student at Central? What led you to Central?
KD: I am from the island of Grand Bahama in the Bahamas, and I serve in leadership in a forty-seven-year-old ministry in the largest and one of the most indigenous settlements in the Bahamas. I emerged from a culture where academia was not necessarily discouraged but where recognizable talent and gifting tended to be avenues for advancement in ministry. However, as my roles continuously expanded in my local sanctuary and community service, I felt an increasing need to be seminary trained. I had tussled with the idea of seminary for a while, but it seemed as if the timing was never perfect or the finances were never in place. After the Lord opened the door for me to teach at the international level of my church’s convention, my decision to attend seminary was finalized.
After fleshing out several options, the five words that initially arrested me, “shaping church and serving humanity,” kept me detained. In January 2019 I enrolled in the Master of Arts in Theological Studies at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. I would like to say that Central was my Seminary of choice, but I must admit that it had to have been the Lord’s choosing for me. Only the Lord could have directed me to an institution that has so powerfully transformed my ministerial journey. I would like to say it was a last-minute decision, as I literally finalized plans the weekend before classes began, but I will admit it was the Lord’s timing. I would like to say it was the presence of female leadership, but I believe it was just one avenue that the Lord used to assuage my fears and provide needed confidence and affirmation in my trek to pastoral ministry.
PD: What have been the best resources and experiences you have had in your time at Central?
KD: Coming from the Bahamas where seminary options are somewhat limited, I find that Central provides the bridge through online learning that equips for ministry in my local context, as well as broadens my perspectives in preparation for global responsiveness. Through its facilitative mode of study; library resources; wide ranging, inclusive, and relevant choice of required and supplemental readings; I have found a platform to comfortably explore my embedded theological issues and to begin to reconcile my doctrinal tensions. I was a bit apprehensive about seminary, and, admittedly, my first term was jolting. But I find now that as I learn and grow with such a rich and diverse community of leaders and learners, I welcome the challenge to question aspects of my theology that I so long believed were concrete. I am experiencing transformation in a way I hadn’t imagined.
But Central is more than a conventional seminary. It is a community of sisters and brothers in Christ who are intentional about following Jesus’ great commandment to love one another. On September 1, 2019, when my island suffered the ravages of Category 5 Hurricane Dorian, the Central community proved that the love of God in Christ Jesus transcends geographical confines. The level of prayer and support from the community was overwhelming. Fellow classmates texted and emailed and remained in contact, even as the winds were howling and the sea levels were rising. I found out later that those who were unable to reach me during the storm went to the Virtual Commons on Central's Moodle site and posted prayers and well wishes during and in the aftermath of the storm. That was an experience I won’t ever forget. In those moments and the weeks and months that followed, I felt the love and support of family.
Less than two years into the MA(TS) program the Lord has expanded my leadership role. I now serve as senior pastor in the ministry where I was raised and served for more than thirty years. This has to be a testament to the recognizable change that Central has provoked and indeed continues to cultivate.
PD: What is bringing you joy in this hard season of COVID? What activities, adventures, and family connections are keeping you healthy?
KD: Though it is an exciting time, it is a challenge to assume the role of lead pastor in the midst of a pandemic. There are potential stresses that can take their toll on every aspect of health. I am grateful, however, to the Lord Jesus Christ for the spiritual blessings of strength and peace and a sense of calm and hope in the sovereignty of God in the midst of all the turmoil. These are constantly sought and obtained through a life of prayer and faith in the Word of God. I am also grateful for the way God has allowed me to communicate this peace to the church and community in a way that assures them of God’s presence. Doing so has helped to maintain our spiritual health.
I find reassurance in the strength of my familial bonds, though our meetings are now more virtual than in person. My husband and sons have been the greatest source of love and support. We constantly remind each other to focus on the things of eternal value, which create lasting memories and help to hold us together in our times of absence. I hail from a huge family, and the bond that we thirteen siblings created over the years remains strong. That bond is an awesome blessing and goes a long way to maintaining health. Personally, I add to the maintenance of my mental, emotional, and physical health by taking long walks on the beach five or six days per week. I use this opportunity to muse about God’s continual presence and care in all of God’s creation, despite COVID’s temporary visit.
I will add that even as I seek my own health in a time of COVID, I remain deeply concerned about the ill health of those in broken relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, those who are suffering the pandemic of a sinful nature. Additionally, I am forever mindful of the least among us who have always found themselves suffering the pandemics of oppression, systemic poverty, and many forms of injustice. I am on track for completion of a MA(TS) degree by summer of 2021, but I am prayerfully considering a continuation in the Master of Divinity program at Central. All in the Lord’s will.