Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, borrowed from Dickens for his annual State of the Seminary address in NOBTS' Leavell Chapel.
"A Tale of Two Seminaries" indeed is the story of NOBTS, Kelley said regarding 2011 and the start of 2012. The first half of 2011 "was as tough a storm we've had since Hurricane Katrina. Other than Hurricane Katrina, I don't know of another time that was as difficult in my time at the seminary since 1983."
Kelley mentioned the nation's economic downturn and the attendant decline in Cooperative Program receipts as major contributors to those difficult six months, which included some faculty layoffs and restructuring.
"But since July 1 -- amazing," Kelley said.
While July typically is the slowest month for institutions of higher education, Kelley said that's when things got exciting last year at the seminary.
"When July 1 hit New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2011, what had been such a stormy, stormy beginning became a patch of blue. God began doing amazing things," Kelley said, including:
-- A longtime donor purchased for the seminary a facsimile copy of Codex Sinaiticus, a complete Greek manuscript found near Mt. Sinai in 1844. Codex Sinaiticus dates to between 330 and 360 A.D.
-- The seminary acquired a 1617 3rd printing edition of the King James Bible.
-- A $30,000 scholarship endowment was received from Pintlala Baptist Church in Hope Hull, Ala.
-- NOBTS received a $40,000 scholarship endowment for hearing-impaired ministers.
-- The seminary received a $50,000 endowment for student wives program expenses.
-- A $50,000 gift was given to benefit the seminary's program at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.
-- $100,000 was given toward a scholarship for African American students.
-- $100,000 also was given toward a scholarship for small church ministers.
-- The homeschool program at NOBTS received a $100,000 endowment.
-- There was a $100,000 addition to the Sherie Taylor Brooks Scholarship fund.
-- $416,879 was given to establish a new endowed chair in counseling.
-- Providence Fund gifts totaled $530,036.
And $1 million was given for a new eight-unit apartment building on campus.
"The total gifts we received from July 1 to December 31 $2,792,025... Wow!" Kelley said in his April 12 address.
The good news is continuing into 2012, with a total of $2,289,673 in gifts coming to the seminary between January and March. Part of that total came in the form of a $1 million gift.
"I don't know about your day, but I don't have many days when someone puts a check for $1 million in my hand," Kelley said. "That $1 million will finish paying for that new apartment building going up. It's also going to be another $100,000 scholarship for African American students. It's going to be another $100,000 to spend on bivocational and small church ministers.
"Wow! God is doing some amazing, fantastic things," he said.
SEMINARY'S JOURNEY SINCE 2004
Kelley relayed a quick overview of the past eight years in the life of New Orleans Seminary and Cooperative Program giving, which significantly impacts the six Southern Baptist seminaries' budgets.
In 2004 and 2005, Cooperative Program giving was $12 million over budget. Similarly, in 2004 and 2005, New Orleans Seminary was experiencing record enrollment. Then Hurricane Katrina stuck. The Cooperative Program's $12 million surplus allowed the convention to give NOBTS $6 million toward rebuilding costs.
The hurricane left NOBTS busy rebuilding and retooling its budget, curriculum and staffing. In 2008, the national economy and Cooperative Program began suffering from the recession. By 2010 and 2011, contributions through the Cooperative Program were nearly $8 million behind budget and NOBTS was at the height of its post-Katrina fiscal challenges.
But in the second half of 2011, the tide began to turn. Thus far in the 2011-12 fiscal year, Cooperative Program giving is more than 5 percent above its projected budget.
"We're still in a recession. Our churches are still being affected. We don't know what's going to happen. But this is the first time in three years that we've had three consecutive months where the Cooperative Program was ahead of its budget projections," Kelley said. "That's such an important part of our seminary budget. It's really good news. CP is becoming predictable again, and that's very important for our budget planning."
Likewise, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is well on its way back to the record enrollments seen in the early 2000s. In 2005, NOBTS had 3,797 students enrolled in a total of 52,368 credit hours. At that time, the school's endowment stood at about $44 million.
At the low point in Hurricane Katrina recovery and at the start of the recession, enrollment stood at 3,412 -- roughly an 11 percent decrease. The endowment, though, stood at $46.8 million -- about a 6 percent increase.
In 2011, enrollment rebounded to 3,675 and the endowment grew to $56.1 million.
"God was faithful to NOBTS," Kelley said.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Kelley said NOBTS has completed its curriculum and education delivery overhaul, with great emphasis placed on accessibility through Internet and hybrid courses. The school's budget is stable and its development program is flourishing. What's more, New Orleans is beginning to hit its stride, with a new hospital district under construction, sports and convention events occurring throughout the year, and young entrepreneurs and innovators making the Crescent City a top destination.
In the months and years ahead, Kelley said NOBTS will continue to offer a world-class residential program but will also further develop online and distance learning to make theological education accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. Within two years, Kelley hopes to add six to 10 new faculty members and meet a goal of 4,000 students.
Kelley said the seminary also hopes to achieve a $100 million endowment in the future.
Throughout the whole experience of the past eight years, Kelley said God has remained faithful.
"He's the same God in the storm and the blue sky," Kelley said. "And our role is to continually keep calling out to Him, that we might know He is here.
"And this is the story of NOBTS."
Frank Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
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