Beeson celebrates 25 years

A divinity school started by a Baptist university that is open to all Christians -- an idea some thought at the time was radical – celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

By Bob Allen

An interdenominational divinity school connected to an Alabama Baptist university celebrated its 25th anniversary in a chapel service April 23.

“In the history of an institution, 25 years is not that long,” Beeson Divinity School Dean Timothy George said in remarks at the anniversary celebration. “Yet in all of our lives gathered here today it is a significant stretch of time.”

Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland said he predicted 25 years ago that establishing the first divinity school at a Baptist college or university in the nation would be too risky to survive. He admitted that he was wrong, citing reasons including the “vision, intellect, courage, integrity, compassion and obedience” of the school’s founding dean.

beeson anniversaryWestmoreland described George, a former church history professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as “a person called by God for a task worthy of his life.”

Established with the largest gift from a living donor in Samford history, Beeson Divinity School opened its doors to an entering class of 32 fulltime students in the fall of 1988.

Today, Beeson is one of eight schools that make up Samford University, a school in Birmingham chartered in 1841 and affiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention. The divinity school has awarded nearly 1,000 degrees through its master’s and doctoral programs.

Ralph Waldo Beeson, a retired insurance executive and Presbyterian layman, envisioned a place to train pastors from all Christian denominations. During their lifetimes, members of the Beeson family gave Samford more than $100 million.

Prior to the anniversary service, Beeson students, faculty, staff and others marched in a processional from the statue of the divinity school’s founding benefactor to Hodges Chapel, dedicated in 1995 and named in 2002 in honor of Andrew Gerow Hodges, an insurance executive who served on Samford’s board of trustees for 43 years.

Speakers at the anniversary service included Richard Bewes, former pastor of All Souls' Church in London, England, and a longtime friend of George.