After three years of relationship building, dialogue and sharing of ideas, Averett and the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) made a decision to restore their relationship. The decision to move forward was acted upon by the Averett University Board of Trustees and then later approved at the Annual Meeting of the BGAV in November.
"This decision affirms the University's commitment to developing the whole student, of which their faith is a part," said Averett President Dr. Tiffany Franks. "As an institution of higher learning, Averett has always strived to provide an environment where students can study, nurture, practice and grow in their faith."
"For so many alumni, the relationship with the BGAV was such an important part of their Averett experience; so when the covenant was signed there was almost a sigh of relief," said Alumni Director Dan Hayes '92.
"Averett has historically been an important part of the BGAV family," said the Rev. John Upton, president of the Baptist World Alliance and a 1974 graduate of Averett. "By restoring the relationship, we are reaffirming who we are as Virginia Baptists."
The reconciliation reaffirms a 148-year-old relationship and it does not change the day-to-day experience for students, faculty and staff. "This does not change what happens inside the classroom or what professors teach," said University Chaplain Jamie Williford. "Nor does the renewed relationship mean there will be any changes to policy or procedures for students. The decision to rejoin the BGAV does offer an opportunity for us to reach out to students of Baptist churches that we were previously unable to reach."
"Averett has always encouraged diversity of ideas and beliefs, as well as the development of strong values and critical thinking," said senior Chris West, SGA president. "As a student, it's reassuring to know that the University will continue to hold these values as a high priority."
The renewed relationship provides a catalyst for a vibrant religious life outside the classroom. During the split, religious life at Averett had a presence with such organizations as the Christian Student Union (CSU), Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and Catholic Campus Ministries (CCM). When Williford was hired as chaplain two years ago, opportunities for spiritual life grew. There are several Bible studies available and a student-led worship service as well as the continuation of CSU, CCM and FCA.
Going forward, the University will continue to expand opportunities for service through community service projects, mission trips and camps for Baptist youth. There will be a new focus in the religion department toward developing a pre-ministerial program that begins to prepare the next generation of ministers. Students of all ages will be able to find a place to prepare for ministry-related fields or to teach in academic settings after successfully completing graduate school.
"We need academic centers to help in the training of clergy and those who serve in our churches; and Averett's commitment to its religion department will help provide this," Upton said. "This (reconciliation) will also help us reach out to the broader community in Virginia and the world through missions."
Already there has been discussion at the University regarding ways to build upon the Graduate and Professional Studies (GPS) Program and provide opportunities to adults who have an interest in going into the ministry. In addition, working adults who want to enter the church ministry could be able to reach their goal through online courses and independent studies available through the IDEAL program. The possibilities for new courses and degree programs are many.
"We see all kinds of future possibilities," said Upton. "We can be as innovative and creative as we want to be. We look forward to exploring our shared purpose and vision and building from there."
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