November 14, 2018
Throwing in the towel on BTSR
To the editor:
As an alumna and former employee of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, my grief is deep today.
BTSR’s decision this week to close its doors has generated its own buzz in Baptist life. Many alumni and friends who were blindsided by the decision are asking hard questions. I could recount for you the events of the last 18 months with vivid detail because I lived it, but that will not change the outcome nor soothe our grief.
On days like today, finger pointing becomes a favorite pastime of our Baptist family. Sure, we could all point to a number of decisions we believe led to this day and have valid reasons for supporting them. Some will say, “That seminary never had a chance.” Others might even go so far as to say, “That seminary never should have made it anyway.” But to spend our time here is to lose a story and a legacy too valuable to our Baptist community.
For the alumni who were formed and shaped by her ministry, BTSR will always be more than “the seminary that didn’t make it.” And I hope for the Baptist world, BTSR never becomes defined solely by that phrase either. BTSR’s contributions to the Baptist family have been deep and wide and will continue to be.
Here are a few things for which I am grateful:
- In 1991, a group of rebels birthed a dream for a place of learning that fostered critical thinking and faithful service. I’m thankful for this bold group and their big dreams.
- When it appeared the rest of the Baptist world was saying “no” to women in ministry, BTSR said an emphatic “yes.” For the troublemakers who risked much and the women who led the way, I am grateful.
- Leadership across the years has pulled us out of the depths of hard times and pointed us to a brighter future. On a day like today that work may seem futile, but for those of us who passed through BTSR’s doors, we are profoundly grateful for you who brought it from the ashes and breathed life into it when the economy, circumstances, and pundits were betting against it.
- I am grateful for donors and foundations whose gifts made my education possible. Today some might wonder why they ever invested in a sinking ship. Please know that your dollars allowed my education and many others to be debt free and set me on a path that would not have otherwise been possible.
- Having been a member of the staff, I am incredibly grateful for fellow staff members who gave of themselves every day because they recognized their work was more than a job but a true calling.
- I am grateful to the 700+ students who dared to enter her doors. In my time at BTSR, I met some of the most gifted colleagues in ministry who are changing the world every day. They have pushed me and challenged me to examine my own theology and sharpened my ministry skills.
- From its inception, BTSR had a way of attracting some of the best faculty in theological education. My experience in the classroom was formative and foundational to my ministry. There are too many to name, but I give thanks for every faculty member who invested their gifts into shaping and forming ministry leaders.
Alumni and friends of BTSR have their own memories to share. I hope we do that together so that in our grief the story is remembered for all of its goodness.
One of the great BTSR traditions is that every graduate is presented a towel with their name on it at graduation. Today those towels may dry some tears, but I also hope they remind us of the good days too. Most importantly, I hope they remind us of a Messiah who knelt before others and washed their dirty feet. The world’s feet are still dirty, and there is still much work to be done. So today let us give thanks for a seminary who gave us a towel and a vision of something bigger.
Melissa Fallen, Midlothian, Virginia
– Melissa Fallen is an M.Div. (2005) and D.Min. (2014) graduate of BTSR. She served as the director of admissions and recruitment from 2014-2018.