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By Ben Brown

“So, tell me what kind of Baptist you are…”

It was orientation day for the DMin program at Union Presbyterian, and we were channeled into breakout groups for brief introductions.

I had introduced myself, and I was the only Baptist in the small group.

“Not that kind of Baptist.” I said with a laugh.

My classmate replied back, “Oh good. You hear Baptist, and you just don’t know sometimes.”

Cooperative Baptists in Virginia recently gained new options for theological education with the expansion of distance education from Baptist Seminary of Kentucky and the establishment of a Baptist House of Studies at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond. These new and strengthened partnerships offer traditional and innovative theological education models to prospective students in Virginia.

In the fall of 2020, I matriculated as a Doctor of Ministry student at Union Presbyterian Seminary. In serving as the Minister of Students at Second Baptist Church in Richmond, I pursued many options for this DMin degree. Some programs were attractive in study and focus, but time away from home added complications to the search. Union Presbyterian’s program remained on my radar, but it quickly became my first choice due to proximity, student resourcing, cost, and ecclesiological focus.

As an MDiv student at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (BTSR), crossing Brook Road to visit the library on the campus of Union Presbyterian was routine. In the stacks, the reference room, and all over campus; students, staff, and faculty from Union were welcoming and hospitable to the Baptists on their turf. As a Chaplain Intern at VCU Health, I again encountered more students and alumni from Union Presbyterian seeking units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). The same attributes of warmth, openness, and camaraderie were present.

Currently, as a DMin candidate, I am the only CBF representative in the cohort of ten; however, I’m sure that I won’t be the last one. This first semester has been challenging academically, but the topics of study directly enhance my ministry. The faculty of Union Presbyterian are top notch, and the resources available to students are enviable. My experience as a student has been wonderful, I have felt included in campus life (even during COVID-19) while the fall semester has been exclusively online. I’ve been welcomed to chapel services, interfaith dialogues, justice conversations, and experienced the vision of this 208-year-old institution, “For the Church in the World.”

I am ecstatic to see a Baptist House on the campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary, and I am thrilled to know that other Baptists will be coming to Richmond to pursue theological education. I’m even more thrilled for the Presbyterian, United Methodist, and other students at Union to see some of the very best of CBF. This option for traditional, on-campus theological eduction will provide CBF students with some of the very finest faculty, student amenities, alumni network, and ecumenical relationships available.

While some may hear Baptist and not know, they’ll understand soon enough.

The Baptist House of Studies at Union Presbyterian is expecting to accept students and begin courses in the fall of 2021, and I look forward to seeing and engaging with these wonderful students and ministers.

Churches in Virginia will be served well with this new partnership and the opportunities for field placement, special event leaders, ministers, and interns. The future of theological education is ecumenical, and Virginia is poised to model partnership through this necessary endeavor for the church in the world.