Pioneering Baptist seminary to close at end of academic year
Original vision of BTSR will help launch new center for racial justice
Richmond, VA (November 13, 2018) – In the former capital of the Confederacy, a Baptist seminary that began as a creative setting for innovative theological education has made the decision to conclude its tenure and pass along its vision to a new institution focused on racial justice and innovation in the church.
Trustees of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (BTSR) announced today that the school will close on June 30, 2019, due to financial pressures.
At the same time, the board initiated the formation of a new Center for Faith, Justice and Reconciliation that will work in partnership with the two other schools of the Richmond Theological Consortium, the interracial, ecumenical consortium of which BTSR has been a part.
“We are so thankful for these 30 years that BTSR has served,” said BTSR president Linda McKinnish Bridges. “Our trustees have made a hard decision, and in the coming days we will be lamenting. But we also have cause for gratitude. We have 750 graduates who are serving as pastors and chaplains, missionaries and nonprofit leaders all around the world. We prepared so many women to serve the church when they had very few options. I am proud of our students, faculty and staff. And I am grateful for the trustees creating a new Center, for although it will be a different kind of institution, it will carry forward the vision that animated BTSR from its beginning.”
The seminary projects that it will maintain its class schedule as planned through the end of this academic year, and the class of 2019 will receive degrees from BTSR. For other students, the seminary will dedicate a staff member to help them explore options and have the smoothest transfer experience possible. Trustees also are putting plans in place to address the needs of faculty and staff.
“This decision was not undertaken lightly,” said board chair Bill Wilson. “BTSR has been a valuable and trusted source of theological training for women and men, and we are confident that its positive impact will continue to be felt as its graduates serve churches, organizations and other entities for the cause of Christ.”
BTSR’s two partners in the Richmond Theological Consortium are stepping up to help students complete their studies. Union Presbyterian Seminary (UPSem) and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University (STVU) have committed to help students transfer a maximum number of courses.
UPSem president Brian Blount said, “UPSem has highly valued its partnership with BTSR, and we are ready to work with the BTSR faculty and administration in assisting students now enrolled in BTSR to complete their course of studies.”
STVU dean and vice president Corey D. B. Walker added, “STVU and BTSR students and faculty have shared a number of learning experiences over the years, most recently with the Baptist religious liberty course our schools cooperated in last spring. Now we are ready to partner with BTSR in a new way, to help give their students the opportunity to finish their academic work at a sister Baptist institution.”
BTSR president Linda McKinnish Bridges expressed gratitude for the assistance. “None of us would have chosen for our students to have to deal with this disruption. But we are deeply grateful that our RTC partners stand ready to help our students, and we know our relationships with other ATS schools will provide other options. We are committed to helping every student find a path to degree completion that best fits their needs.”’
The past decade has been challenging for seminaries and divinity schools across denominations, as well as BTSR. Decreased giving from supporting entities and a shrinking population of prospective students have stressed schools financially. As a result, they have been pushed to close, merge or innovate. Even as finances will not allow BTSR to continue its traditional degree programs, it is choosing to pursue a new idea.
“The creation of the Center for Faith, Justice and Reconciliation is an innovative response to a challenging situation,” said Bridges. “Growing out of our RTC partnership, it is rooted in the rich soil of relationships that reach across racial and denominational lines. It offers an opportunity to honor the legacy and advance the mission of BTSR by offering a new kind of theological education to serve students, congregations and the larger society.”
Rather than granting degrees, the Center is envisioned as a resource and convening center to help students, churches and community leaders work toward racial justice and healing. Plans call for it to work with many seminaries and congregations, offering graduate theological courses, certificate programs and shorter-term opportunities such as conferences and seminars to take theological education beyond the seminary classroom to have an impact on the larger society.
The idea for this type of collaboration grew out of relationships among the three schools. This fall the partners looked toward the RTC’s upcoming 50th anniversary by formalizing their agreement to work together “toward an innovative and collaborative model of theological education that is diverse, ecumenical, and inclusive.”
BTSR trustees will work with Blount and Walker to develop the Center’s structure and mission in the coming weeks.
“In a moment of tremendous change in theological education and the current climate in our society and world, the Center promises to serve as an incubator for new forms of theological education for the academy, church, and society. We hope it will be a creative and collaborative space to develop faithful ways to heal the deep divides in our nation and world,” said Walker. “STVU remains a willing and strategic partner with UPSem, other seminary partners, congregations, and the community to ensure that BTSR’s legacy and prophetic message continues well into the long future.”