Seminary Ext. retiree: 'Never stop learning'

Baptist Press
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Posted: Apr 19, 2012 5:52 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Vivian Buttrey begins to name former Seminary Extension executive directors, recalling all but one.

"I've forgotten more than a lot of people remember," said Buttrey, who retired this spring after nearly 36 years with the joint ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention's six theological seminaries.

The 66-year-old joined Seminary Extension in 1976 as a records clerk and served as director of extension centers before switching to office manager. Buttrey appreciates the service she's been able to offer during her career.

"I really felt that God led me to Seminary Extension years ago," Buttrey said. "Coming to Seminary Extension, I fulfilled a call that I experienced … as a 13- or 14-year-old."

In her teens, Buttrey recounted, she offered her life to the Lord for His service. She learned of Seminary Extension while working as a clerical employee with the SBC Executive Committee in 1966. God opened the door to work for Seminary 10 years later, then under the leadership of the late Raymond Rigdon.

"I don't think God calls everybody to be a preacher," Buttrey said. "God calls every Christian to service and you need to be … open to God's leadership."

Working in a Christian setting has been a blessing, Buttrey said.

"I appreciate most of all the people I worked with and the people I deal with," she said. "They're Christians. You don't have the problems maybe you'd have in a secular setting."

Seminary Extension serves individuals who do not have an opportunity to attend seminary, Buttrey said, including bivocational pastors, laypeople and English as a Second Language students. Enrollees may study online, by correspondence or at one of 200-plus Seminary Extension locations in the U.S. and abroad. All centers use the organization's teaching materials and qualified instructors and mentors. During the ministry's July 2010 - June 2011 instructional year, some 1,530 students were enrolled at the various centers stateside.

"Seminary Extension is flexible in that it can offer courses anytime in any setting," Buttrey said. "We should never stop learning. Through the study of God's Word, we draw closer to Him. We find a purpose for our lives."

Randal Williams, Seminary Extension's current executive director, described Buttrey as irreplaceable, a goldmine of knowledge about the ministry and its history.

"Her greatest gift is in the area of relationships. She knows so many Seminary Extension directors … other people involved in doing Seminary Extension work. That's something we'll never be able to replace," Williams said.

"She knows their names. She knows their addresses. She recognizes their voices on the phone.

"She prays for them."

GiGi Youssef, a native of Egypt who has been Seminary Extension's receptionist since 2002, sees Buttrey as family.

"It's an honor to be under her. She's like my mother. God sent her into my life to be my mother," said Youssef, who only infrequently sees her biological mother in Egypt.

Buttrey is serving Seminary Extension on a contractual basis after retirement, working perhaps three days a week.

"That's going to be God's leading too," she said.

Seminary Extension began operating in Mississippi in 1951, initially organized by the presidents of Southern, Southwestern and New Orleans Baptist theological seminaries. Today, it is under the direction of the six SBC seminary presidents.

Specifically, the presidents of the SBC seminaries constitute Seminary Extension's governing board as well as its chief academic officers and academic council. Many SBC seminary faculty members write Seminary Extension courses. Seminary Extension also supports the seminaries by referring potential students to their campuses.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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