Alumni honored, Dockery, Hawkins answer questions during Southwestern alumni luncheon in New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President David S. Dockery honored Dondi E. Costin and James E. “Buddy” Gray as the institution’s 2023 distinguished alumni and spoke to a capacity crowd of alumni and guests gathered at the annual Alumni and Friends Luncheon about the hope for Southwestern’s future during the June 14 event held during the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.

“It is a joy and delight to see all of you,” said Dockery in his opening remarks to the nearly 700 alumni and friends. “We rejoice in all of the good things that have happened for Southwestern Seminary during the annual meeting this year.”

The distinguished alumni recipients were announced on April 28, but were honored and presented their awards at the alumni luncheon.

A 1994 Master of Divinity graduate of Southwestern Seminary, Maj. Gen. Dondi E. Costin has served as the president of Charleston Southern University since 2018. He assumes the role of president at Liberty University on July 1.

Costin, a 1994 Master of Divinity graduate, has most recently served as the president of Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina. Costin will assume the role of president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, on July 1. A decorated United States Air Force veteran who served his country for more than three decades, Costin had earned the rank of major general upon his retirement from the military in 2018.

“To say I’m surprised is an understatement for sure,” said Costin. “What a great honor it is to receive this award on Flag Day as a veteran and as a chaplain.” Costin added his life would not have been the same without Southwestern Seminary and the impact the institution has had in his life.

“Because God willed it and because of Southwestern Seminary, my life was forever changed” by his time on Seminary Hill, said Costin. “I am so incredibly honored.”

James E. “Buddy” Gray, a 1983 Master of Divinity graduate of Southwestern Seminary, has served as senior pastor of Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, Alabama, for over 37 years.

Gray, a 1983 Master of Divinity graduate, has served as the senior pastor of Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, Alabama, for over 37 years.

“I never thought that I would be a distinguished anything here,” said Gray. “But I am so honored by this award.”

Gray recounted the impact of the Southwestern Seminary faculty as he said, “I am so thankful for the faculty and all of the patience that they had with me.” He exhorted the current professors at Southwestern to invest in the lives of the students the way his professors invested in him.

“I am very excited for what is happening at Southwestern and the best days are very much ahead,” Gray concluded.

Dockery noted several Southwesterners who were recognized during the SBC annual meeting including two-time alumnus Bart Barber who was re-elected as the Southern Baptist Convention president; Rebekah Naylor, distinguished professor of missions and missionary-in-residence, who was recognized by the International Mission Board during the June 12 IMB dinner for 50 years of missionary service with the newly established Dr. Rebekah Naylor Fund; and Peggy Osborne, wife of Professor of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry Chris Osborne, who was recognized at the annual SBC Ministers’ Wives’ Conference as the 2024-2025 president of the SBC Ministers’ Wives’ Luncheon.

Following the presentation of the awards, Dockery addressed the crowd about the current state of Southwestern Seminary. He spoke of the heritage of Southwestern and vowed on behalf of himself and O.S. Hawkins, chancellor and senior professor of pastoral ministry and evangelism, to hold to the legacy of the institution, including its pacesetting work in evangelism.

“Through the years, Southwestern has worked hard to honor the best parts of our Southern Baptist heritage,” said Dockery. “But we also have been eager to implement new things like the first ever chair of evangelism,” referring to the L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism (“Chair of Fire”). The chair was named after Southwestern Seminary’s second president and is the first academic chair in the discipline of evangelism in the history of theological education.

Dockery noted the current emphasis on campus-wide prayer that occurs on Monday mornings and in other settings and inviting the gathering of alumni and friends “that you pray with us,” he said.

“We ask that you pray for our spiritual formation, wisdom in leadership, and to follow God’s will,” implored Dockery.

Dockery noted the encouragement of seeing an increase in enrollment at Southwestern Seminary and Texas Baptist College, adding, “We are so thankful to God for this as well as our Admissions Team who have worked tirelessly to achieve this.”

“We ask you join us in praying for the challenges are ahead of us,” concluded Dockery. “We thank God for every marker of hope He has provided and we are excited for the future of Southwestern Seminary.”

David S. Dockery, president of Southwestern Seminary, and O.S. Hawkins, chancellor, answered questions submitted by attendees of the institution’s annual Alumni and Friends Luncheon at the SBC on June 14 in a discussion moderated by Chandler Snyder, interim vice president for student services and enrollment.

Following a time of worship led by Joseph R. Crider, dean of the School of Church Music and Worship, Dockery and Hawkins answered questions that were submitted by attendees of the luncheon. Chandler Snyder, interim vice president for student services and enrollment, moderated the Q&A.

In a question regarding the previous administration at Southwestern, Hawkins answered, “I wrote letters of recommendation for the last two administrations with the hope that Southwestern would re-fire and retool. The last two administrations have left us a good faculty. They left us a faculty that adheres to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”

Hawkins noted he is serving in a voluntary capacity without pay because of his love for the institution. Concerning working with the new president, Hawkins said, “David Dockery is probably the strongest leader I have ever seen …. We have a partnership that we think God put together.”

In a question regarding how the seminary will provide assurances of fidelity for funds and gifts, Dockery answered, “We want to be good stewards of the gifts and funds God has provided” and added “our first priority is institutional stewardship.” Dockery also said leadership is “trying to find ways to do things more effectively, but at a lower expense for our school.”

Answering a question about why he accepted the presidency, Dockery responded, “I am the reluctant president, but I love Southwestern Seminary,” noting he owes “a debt” to the institution and “when the opportunity came to serve Southwestern, I could only say, ‘Yes, how can I help?’”

Hawkins added their “hope” is to “get this school into a position for the next person to have a long tenure and have success.”

Responding to a question regarding Southwestern’s historical and current commitment to evangelism and missions, Dockery said, “Southwestern has commissioned more missionaries than any other seminary” and added “it is who we have been and it is who we must be.”

“‘Take the Gospel to the nations’ has been our motto and we will continue this through our school,” Dockery said.

In the final question regarding their hopes for Southwestern’s future, Dockery responded, “I think we should be hopeful because we have a great God,” while Hawkins added, “There’s no other place that has a history like we do, and I truly believe that we can rebuild in an incredible way for future of our seminary.”

The luncheon concluded in a prayer led by Melana Hunt Monroe, director of prayer ministries at Southwestern and daughter of late Southwestern Seminary Professor of Church Music T.W. Hunt.

Southwestern A Cappella, a musical ensemble from the seminary’s School of Church Music and Worship, led in musical performances during the 2023 Alumni and Friends Luncheon. The ensemble also assisted in leading worship during the worship sessions of the 2023 SBC annual meeting.

Luncheon attendees were treated to musical performances by Southwestern A Cappella, one of the student worship groups in the SCMW. Led by Charles T. Lewis Jr., associate dean of the SCMW, Southwestern A Cappella also assisted in leading in worship during the worship sessions of the SBC annual meetings.