Gray, Costin named 2023 Southwestern Distinguished Alumni

2023 Distinguished Alumni Honorees

Alabama pastor James E. “Buddy” Gray and newly appointed president of Liberty University Dondi E. Costin were named the 2023 Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Distinguished Alumni, David S. Dockery, president of the Fort Worth institution, announced today. Gray and Costin will be honored at the annual Alumni and Friends Luncheon at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting on June 14.

“Buddy Gray and Dondi Costin are model Southwesterners whose exemplary ministries are worthy of honor with Southwestern Seminary’s Distinguished Alumni Award,” Dockery said. “Whether in a fruitful and long-tenured pastorate, like Buddy, or in diverse ministry experiences of the military and academia, like Dondi, both men have served faithfully.”

Dockery added that he is “grateful for the privilege to have learned from both of them and to call them friends. We are truly thankful for the achievements of these Southwesterners as ministers of the Gospel and look forward to honoring them during our annual Alumni and Friends Luncheon at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans.”

James E. “Buddy” Gray
Gray, who has served as the senior pastor of Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, Alabama, for 37 years, earned a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Seminary in 1983. The Alabama native’s ties to the Hoover-based church date back to his time as an undergraduate student at Samford University in Birmingham. Gray was a part-time youth minister at Hunter Street while he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree at Samford. He was promoted to associate pastor after a year of service as the youth minister. Gray held the role for a year before moving to Fort Worth to study at Southwestern.

After completing his graduate studies at Southwestern, Gray began pastoring Bush Memorial Baptist Church in Troy, Alabama. However, in 1986 as a 29-year-old, the Lord called Gray back to Hunter Street as senior pastor, where he has served ever since.

When Gray began serving as senior pastor, the weekly church attendance averaged less than 200 people. During Gray’s tenure he has led the church to relocate from its original site in Birmingham to the neighboring suburb of Hoover and been a part of watching God increase the weekly attendance to an average of 3,500 people. The focus and heart for global missions, in addition to strong discipleship programs, are hallmarks of the church’s ministry.

In addition to his degrees from Southwestern Seminary and Samford University, Gray holds the Doctor of Ministry (2002) degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he served two terms on the board of trustees, including service as chairman of the board. Gray has also served as president of the Alabama Baptist Convention.

Dondi E. Costin
Costin, who was appointed in March as the new president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, earned a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Seminary in 1994. Costin has served as the third president of Charleston Southern University in North Charleston, South Carolina, since 2018. During his tenure at the institution, Costin helped establish CSU’s first two doctoral programs, South Carolina’s only four-year aviation program, and an engineering department that includes an engineering major with three concentrations. He will assume his new role with Liberty University on July 1, 2023.

Originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, Costin earned a Bachelor of Science in operations research from the United States Air Force Academy in 1986. Costin, who retired from the United States Air Force in 2018 with the rank of major general, gave more than three decades of service to his country in military service in various capacities, including scientific analyst on a weapons evaluation squadron, chief scientific analyst at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, and the 18th chief of chaplains for the U.S. Air Force at the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C.

A decorated military veteran, Costin earned the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star Medal. Additionally, he is a seven-time recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal, a four-time awardee of the Air Force Commendation Medal, as well as the Joint Service Achievement Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, and the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, among numerous other military decorations.

Costin also previously served as an assistant professor of aerospace studies at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.

In addition to his degree from Southwestern Seminary, Costin holds a Master of Arts in religion and a Master of Arts in counseling, both from Liberty University, as well as a Master of Military Operational Art and Science and a Master of Strategic Studies from Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Costin also earned a Doctor of Ministry in evangelism and church growth and Doctor of Philosophy in leadership from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Costin was honored with the Military Chaplains Association Distinguished Service Award in 2001. In 1996 he was a United States Olympic torchbearer for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games held in Atlanta. An avid runner, Costin is a two-time qualifier for the Boston Marathon.

Gray and Costin will receive their distinguished alumni awards during the Alumni and Friends Luncheon on June 14 as part of the events of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. More information and to purchase tickets can be found here.