By Robert Dilday
The 4,600-student Baptist school in Boiling Springs will partner with the BGAV on the basis of shared values, said leaders of both organizations.
The new partnership is an indicator of Baptists’ shifting denominational landscape. Historically, Baptist colleges and universities in the South have identified with a single state Baptist convention, though students and financial donations frequently came from beyond the state. Gardner-Webb will continue to affiliate with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, as well as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the CBF of North Carolina.
The Virginia Baptist Mission Board approved a “partnership mission covenant” with the school to help “fulfill the Great Commission through shared commitments and cooperative ministry while at the same time maintaining the independence and distinct character of each.” The agreement does not provide for BGAV financial contributions to Gardner-Webb.
“Gardner-Webb University exists to advance the Kingdom of God through Christian higher education …,” said Tracy Jessup, the school’s vice president for Christian life and service and senior minister to the university, in an emailed statement. “We welcome the opportunity to partner with the BGAV and with the Baptists of Virginia for spreading the gospel and for the advancement of the Redeemer’s Kingdom. As a Christian, Baptist-related university and as a covenant partner with the BGAV, Gardner-Webb University shares the [BGAV’s] vision of ‘Kingdom Advance’ and its four major thrusts pertaining to empowering leaders, emerging leaders, glocal missions and evangelism, and courageous churches.”
Gardner-Webb traces its roots to a high school founded in 1905, which later became a junior college and ultimately a four-year university, named for North Carolina governor Max Gardner and his wife, Fay Webb Gardner, both of whom took an active interest in the school. It has offered master’s degree since 1980, and in 1992 established a school of divinity.
The BGAV identifies as partners five other Virginia-based schools, all of which receive a level of funding: Averett University, Bluefield College, Fork Union Military Academy, Hargrave Military Academy and Oak Hill Academy. It also partners with and funds Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and the John Leland Center for Theological Studies.
Gardner-Webb is one of five educational institutions affiliated with the North Carolina convention, though the convention does not provide financial support to them through its unified budget or elect their trustees. The others are Campbell University, Chowan University, Mars Hill University and Wingate University.