Friday’s commencement ceremony for Baylor University’s George W. Truett Seminary will carry special significance as the school will graduate its 1,000th student since opening 18 years ago.
Nineteen degrees will be issued, but the 1,000th will be handed to Jamie McCallum, a Coppell native who is receiving her master of divinity.
McCallum, 29, is an associate pastor for youth and congregational life at First Baptist Church of Waco, Truett’s original home and the site of the graduation. She also will be ordained at the church this weekend.
McCallum said while she is excited about being the 1,000th graduate, she thinks it is a greater testament to Truett’s development.
“I really don’t think about what it means for me, except for the sense that Truett has prepared me and formed me to go out and serve the local church,” McCallum said. “I think about the 999 others who are serving the Lord in ministries all over, through Texas, the U.S. and all around the world.”
Dean David Garland said in some ways it is a surprise to reach this milestone in 18 years, because Truett has been deliberate in creating smaller classes to focus more on students’ spiritual development and preparedness for ministry.
“I think it says something about the reach that we will have for spreading the Gospel in the world,” Garland said. “It shouldn’t surprise us, but we are very pleased.”
Truett’s first graduate also will be at the ceremony. Brian Brewer received his master of divinity degree from the seminary in 1997 and is an assistant professor of Christian theology at Truett.
With the initials “B.B.,” it would appear that Brewer simply won the alphabet draw to receive the first Truett diploma, but he actually put in extra work to secure the spot.
Brewer finished his degree in 1996, a year ahead of the rest of the class. He crammed his courses into two years while commuting from Cedar Hill so he would graduate by the time his wife finished medical school in Dallas.
Instead of having a ceremony just for him, Truett staffers had him return the next year and march first with the rest of the class.
“I had just finished another degree at Princeton Seminary, and so I came down and graduated with the first class, and the following week I graduated at Princeton with a master of theology degree,” said Brewer, 42.
Truett was quite different in those early years, at least aesthetically.
The first classes were held in the education wing of First Baptist Church, with some class sizes as small as four or six students. Professors shared offices, separated only by cubicles.
“We taught classes in the same rooms that they used for Vacation Bible School,” said Garland, chuckling, who began teaching at Truett in 1997.
But the intimate setting was what brought Brewer to Truett. He received his bachelor’s in religion studies at Baylor, but started his theological studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth as Truett was still in its developmental stages.
“I was really intrigued by the vision that was Truett Seminary, that the idea was we’d be a close-knit community, one in which you’d have a lot of contact with not just fellow students, but also professors,” Brewer said.
McCallum said while classes have gotten larger at Truett, it still is common to have just 10 or 12 students in one course, gathered around a table discussing Scriptures and beliefs.
“You engage in a dialogue over what you’ve been reading and thinking through,” McCallum said. “You really get to know a diverse range of people and their ideas, how they read Scripture and how that affects their life and their church, and you kind of grow each other in the process.”
McCallum graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University in 2006 and went on to serve as a missionary in the Middle East for two years teaching English.
McCallum said as she felt the call to seminary, she chose Truett because she felt it would offer an open environment to explore her talents and role in ministry, particularly as a woman in the Baptist church.
“I knew that Truett was one of the few Baptist seminaries that really encourages and supports women in all aspects of ministry,” said McCallum, who hopes to eventually become a pastor. “I knew that there had been females that had come (to Truett) and had been called to pastor, and females that had gone on to serve the church in different forms.”
Brewer went on to earn a Ph.D. in historical theology from Drew University in New Jersey, and pastored churches in Oklahoma and Mississippi before finding his way back to Truett in 2007 to teach full-time.
“The seminary is more than five times the size of the one that I left,” Brewer said. “I think they have been intentional of trying to keep the spirit of that initial community feel alive.”