By Bob Allen
The Kentucky Baptist Fellowship is forging a partnership with both a historically black college and a large African-American congregation whose pastor does double duty as its president.
Bob Fox, moderator of the statewide affiliate of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, reported in an e-newsletter March 20 on recent conversations with Simmons College of Kentucky, formed after the Civil War as a training institute for former slaves and now undergoing a renaissance on its original campus in Louisville, Ky.
Fox, pastor at Faith Baptist in Georgetown, Ky., said for years he has been concerned about lack of diversity in the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship, but his attempts at outreach gained little success. Then out of the blue, he said, KBF Interim Coordinator received a call from leaders at Simmons, who wanted to meet with them.
“I had the pleasure of meeting with Frank Smith, their dean, and Kevin Cosby, their president along with Chris Sanders, [Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville Pastor] Chris Caldwell, and Matthew Johnson,” pastor of Ridgewood Baptist Church.
“We were received with warmth in their downtown Louisville administrative offices,” Fox reported. “A productive discussion began which left all of us encouraged. They told us that they were interested in partnering with KBF not for monetary reasons but for reasons of identity. They were pleased to find a group of Baptists that valued the same things they did.”
“The news only got better when Cosby took me by the hand at the meeting and said, ‘We need you,’” Fox said. “He told me that in addition to a partnership with Simmons, St. Stephen wanted to join KBF. ‘I’m ready to write a check,’ he told me. My heart leapt with joy at the prospect (not of the check) but of KBF growing and more specifically building a relationship with an African-American congregation.”
A week later, Fox said, he was invited to bring greetings on the Fellowship’s behalf at the February pastor’s conference of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky, a grouping of churches from the four largest historically African-American Baptist denominations who work together primarily to support Simmons College and the American Baptist newspaper.
Simmons College opened in 1879 as the Kentucky Normal & Theological Institute, at the time the state’s only African-American liberal arts college and where all of the state’s black teachers received their training.
Renamed Simmons University in 1918, the school added a new building in 1924 but hit hard times in the Great Depression. The campus was sold to the University of Louisville, which operated it as the Louisville Municipal College for Negroes until 1951, when U of L integrated.
Simmons University, which had relocated to west Louisville in 1935, continued with a narrower focus of educating young men and women for Christian service. In 1982 the school was renamed Simmons Bible College to more accurately reflect its mission.
The original campus near Seventh and Kentucky streets was long owned by Jefferson County Public Schools, which declared it surplus in the 1990s. At the urging of his father, at the time chairman of the school board, Cosby and St. Stephen Baptist Church, where he is pastor, acquired the four-acre campus in 1997 for about $130,000.
Cosby was named 13th president of Simmons in 2005 and returned the college to its liberal arts roots in 2014.
The school holds candidate status with the Commission on Accreditation of the Association for Biblical Higher Education and is close to receiving official designation as a historically black college, which would make it eligible for both federal grants for students and capital improvement funds.
An matriculation agreement allows transfer of up to 64 credit hours to the University of Louisville.
Simmons College of Kentucky currently enrolls 225 students, up from 112 a year ago. Last year it granted nine degrees, all in theology, while this year it projects 21 graduates, most with liberal arts degrees.
Cosby, 56, holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Kentucky Baptist-affiliated Campbellsville University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2011.
Cosby has taught as an adjunct professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and spoken in chapel. He preached at the Southern Baptist Convention Pastor’s Conference in 2002 and the following year was appointed to the SBC Committee on Committees by SBC President Jack Graham.
In 2003 SBC Life included Cosby and St. Stephen Baptist Church in a story profiling African-American Southern Baptist churches. The church is included in a database locating Southern Baptist congregations on the SBC website.
Fox said his understanding is the talks with the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship began with conversation between an associate pastor at a St. Stephen satellite congregation in Elizabethtown, Ky., and Roger Jasper, pastor of Living Faith Baptist Fellowship, a partner congregation of both the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship based in Decatur, Ga.
“I have for many years been concerned about the diversity of our fellowship,” Fox wrote. “I have even been involved in some attempts to widen our fellowship. Typically they were met with polite disinterest. But now as we partner with Simmons and accept St. Stephen into our membership, it has been nothing but the work of God’s grace that has brought us together. And I for one celebrate these great things of God that have happened without my effort. Thanks be to God!”