FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary celebrated its 100th birthday in grand Texas style, March 14, replete with a centennial chapel service, alumni gatherings and a campus-wide picnic featuring a spectacular fireworks show. Several notable alumni were present to honor the legacy of the seminary’s first century of service to Southern Baptists as well as to challenge the institution to remain a premier training ground for pastors, Christian leaders and missionaries.

Cloudless skies and bright spring weather allowed for a special centennial Founder’s Day chapel service to take place on the seminary’s front lawn in the morning. Seminary president Paige Patterson recognized alumni, welcomed students and guests, and read letters congratulating the seminary’s centennial from Southwestern graduates, David Dockery, president of Union University, and Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

Two influential Southwestern alumni gave testimonies of their relationship with Southwestern. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, thanked Southwestern for consistently setting the pace of evangelism for Southern Baptists. Akin encapsulated his hope for Southern Baptists by saying, “In the day and age in which we live, wedding a healthy, robust theology to a Great Commission passion—that is my prayer for Southern Baptists, that is my prayer for all of our seminaries, and, in particular, the one that has set the pace for so long, that is my prayer and my heartbeat for Southwestern Seminary.”

O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, characterized Southwestern by its influence of training more pastors, more religious educators, more music ministers, and more missionaries than any other seminary. He also praised the seminary for its integrity to stay true to founder B.H. Carroll’s vision.

After Hawkins mentioned Carroll, Andy Smith, a master’s of divinity student, portrayed the seminary’s founder, delivering a speech of what Carroll would possibly state today to reflect on the past 100 years and charge the seminary forward. “I urge you as a brother, the founder, a fellow servant, to stand fast upon the inerrant Word of God, keeping the seminary lashed to our Savior’s cross that all men might know Him,” Smith said. “May God bless Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the president, the faculty and the students to always remain true to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Patterson also displayed the Library of Centennial Classics, a series of ten books, written by some of the brightest minds in Southwestern’s history, such as B.H. Carroll, L.R. Scarborough, W.T. Connor and A.H. Newman. The set, available for order on the seminary’s website, is bound in a blue hardback binding with a centennial stamp on the front of each book.  

Kenneth Hemphill, the seventh president of the seminary and national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative, acknowledged it was “good to be back home.” Reading through John 17, Hemphill encouraged the crowd to be “kept and sanctified by the Word while in the world.”

Hemphill acknowledged how students may leave this place to serve the Master “wherever it may lead,” whether as pastors of small churches or mega-churches, or spending their last days in the grasp of a captor. He encouraged students to let “God advance His Kingdom, by His power, for His glory.”    

After lunch, alumni gathered in Truett Auditorium for a time of singing and testimonies from alumni. James Leo Garrett, distinguished professor emeritus in the School of Theology at Southwestern, represented graduates from the seminary’s founding through 1965. Garrett, a noted Baptist historian, discussed the progression of the seminary’s first 100 years. David Allen, current dean of the School of Theology, representing alumni 1966 – 1986, recounted his life journey, which brought him to Southwestern as a student, and then as a trustee, and finally as a professor and dean.

Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, represented those graduating from 1987 to the present. “We live on the eve, I am convinced, of a great Baptist renaissance that is going to breathe vitality and confidence into our churches, as we proclaim the New Testament Gospel and plant New Testament churches throughout the world,” Barber said, adding, “Because of that, because of you, and because of so many other reasons, I am so proud to be a Southwesterner.”

Following the alumni meeting, separate alumni receptions were held for each of the schools, where birthday cake was served and alumni were able to meet past and present faculty. Alumni, students and faculty members then gathered on the lawn in front of the B.H. Carroll Memorial Building, where they stood side-by-side to form the number “100” for an aerial photograph memorializing the seminary’s Centennial Celebration.

Afterwards, an estimated 2,100 centennial celebrants sat down to a barbeque dinner on the West Lawn, while children enjoyed playing on bounce houses. Following the dinner, they were blessed by an evening of musical variety provided by the School of Church Music. The evening began with entertainment from New Sound and from pianist Don Wyrtzen, professor of music at Southwestern. Seminary students Parker Webb, Justin Stone, Abby Caldwell, Preston Atwood and Andrew Pearle then performed Southern Gospel songs and hymns. Following their performance, Joe Hardin, associate professor of church music, led contemporary worship with the help of Southwestern student vocalists and members of the New Sound ensemble.

The festivities of the day concluded with an impressive fireworks show. Blasts exploded above the seminary’s iconic Memorial Building, casting colorful lights into the clear night sky, and a final charge was given for Christians to shine the light of the Gospel into a darkened world.