The journey to recovery after a devastating 2016 flood showed Louisiana pastor S.C. Dixon the promise of interracial bridgebuilding and opened doors to new relationships in ministry and education.
During relief efforts, he saw Baptists work together across racial lines, and he formed relationships that eventually led him to enroll at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. He began classes this week via distance learning.
“In August 2016, water inundated our city and our church facilities,” said Dixon, pastor of Greater Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. Within the predominantly African-American congregation, 53 homes, including Dixon’s, experienced major flood damage.
While in the process of cleanup, Dixon received a call from Mike Massar, then pastor of University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. “He wanted to know what they could do as a predominantly white church to help a predominantly Black church get back on its feet,” Dixon said. “We started having meetings with leaders of both congregations, trying to strategically map out a situation that would help Mount Olive rise again.”
The planning focused both on the restoration of the church’s three buildings — a sanctuary, educational complex and Christian Life Center — and the personal losses of church families. “They wanted to know what they could do to help the church in its totality,” Dixon explained.
Soon another Baton Rouge congregation, Broadmoor Baptist Church, which like University is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, also joined recovery efforts. Not long afterward, national CBF leaders visited Baton Rouge, and a call for CBF volunteers brought help from other states. “I can’t even name all of the places they came from to help us clean out,” Dixon said.
While working with CBF volunteers, Dixon learned about the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. Events within his denomination, the National Baptist Convention of America International, Inc. further introduced him to BSK.
At an NBCA gathering, Dixon heard Louisville pastor Kevin Cosby report that a master of divinity degree would be offered by BSK at Simmons College of Kentucky, an NBCA-affiliated school that Cosby serves as president. BSK classes began at Simmons in spring 2018, and in February 2020, the NBCA designated BSK as its official seminary.
“That made me want to further my education at BSK even more,” Dixon said.
Dixon is enrolled in two online classes at BSK this semester. Earlier this year, the Association of Theological Schools extended BSK’s accreditation to include distance learning. Now Dixon and others from states beyond Kentucky can earn a degree without having to leave home.
At Greater Mount Olive, Dixon serves a congregation with more than 700 members. A pastor since 1988, he became Greater Mount Olive’s founding pastor in 1996.
While he has deep pastoral experience, Dixon said he still has much to learn, and he sees God’s hand at work in his pilgrimage to seminary. “I drew the conclusion that it was God-given,” he said. “All of the dots were connecting.”
One of those dots was being able to pursue his studies while remaining as his congregation’s pastor. Dixon has taken seminary classes at another school, but a long commute made completing a degree impractical.
He hopes his example of continuing his education will inspire young people in his church to prioritize lifelong learning. “Just because I am who I am, and I am where I am doesn’t mean I can’t continue to learn and do better,” he said.
Dixon is one of 11 students from the NBCA enrolled at BSK this fall. He serves the denomination as general secretary, an office that oversees record keeping and meeting logistics, and he is president of the Louisiana Home and Foreign Missions Baptist Convention, an NBCA state affiliate.
Many more NBCA pastors will be drawn to a seminary option that is accessible and endorsed by their denomination, Dixon predicted. “This will make all the difference in the world knowing the convention you are affiliated with offers this service.”
Dixon also praised Cosby and his wife, Barnetta, for championing financial aid opportunities for NBCA students and others. A BSK scholarship fund designated for the American descendants of slavery has been established in honor of the couple.
The fund, he said, helps students enroll without bearing a huge financial cost. He emphasized too many potential NBCA seminarians have dismissed the possibility of theological education because they felt it was unaffordable. The prospect of an affordable seminary education, he said, “is life-changing in the minds of many who want to pursue that.’
This opportunity is borne in a seminary and denominational partnership that promises to flourish because of shared priorities and values, noted Samuel C. Tolbert Jr., NABC president.
“The National Baptist Convention of America International Inc. places a strong value on theological education,” he said. “BSK’s focus on Black church studies and rural church development will make this partnership thrive and support our quest to produce educated Christian workers.”
The partnership will strengthen the educational experience for all BSK students, added BSK President David Cassady.
“BSK is gratified and humbled the NBCA has chosen to partner with us,” he said. “The presence of NBCA students adds diversity and richness to our community and aids BSK in our quest to equip people for effective ministry in a rapidly changing world.”