Seventy-five years ago, Southern Baptists’ seminary to the West was born during a prayer meeting, the dream of a visionary man.
Gateway Seminary celebrated the anniversary of that occasion Thursday (March 14) during a Founder’s Day event that culminated in a 10-hour prayer vigil by faculty, staff and students.
“Isn’t it appropriate that we begin our celebration with prayer, just as the school began?” President Jeff Iorg asked the seminary audience gathered in the chapel. “We will be hosting other events during the year to commemorate our 75th anniversary.
“But as we celebrate this significant achievement,” he noted, “it’s important to remember aspects of our founding that have marked our history and, I hope, will mark our future.”
Iorg said the seminary was the dream of a man from Arkansas named Isam Hodges.
Hodges, his wife and five children moved to Berkeley, Calif., in 1935, one year before the first Southern Baptist church was founded in the state. He graduated with a master of arts degree from Berkeley Baptist Divinity School in May 1937 and accepted the call to serve as pastor of Golden Gate Baptist Church the next month. The church cooperated with the Northern Baptist Convention.
“Missions-minded as he was, he began gathering facts about surrounding communities that needed churches,” Iorg said, recounting the story from former President Harold Graves’ book “Into the Wind.” “He began agitating for an aggressive program of evangelism and missions, but there was no ready response from fellow pastors.”
He said that Hodges’ frustration with the slow response of fellow pastors did not keep him from opening his heart to his own people. His sermons were filled with Baptist history and missionary information. He challenged them with the descriptions of sacrifice by those who had spread the Gospel in other areas. He sought in every way he could to spur their evangelistic concern.
“As Southern Baptist churches began to be organized nearby, Hodges and his people became aware of their work and growth,” Iorg noted. “He suggested to his Northern Baptist brethren this was the kind of work they should be doing. This only antagonized them. They saw only the danger of a Southern Baptist invasion of their territory. He finally came to the conclusion that the only way to get an effective expansion program going was to join Southern Baptists.”
On Nov. 17, 1943, the Golden Gate Baptist Church voted 36 to 6 to begin partnering with the Southern Baptist Convention. Hodges had been their pastor for more than six years. Although he did not join that fellowship to turn it toward Southern Baptist alignment, the six years of evangelistic and missionary promotion made a difference in the life of the congregation.
“The church had been using some Southern Baptist Sunday School materials and had already been cooperating with many Southern Baptist activities,” Iorg said. “Hodges had established sufficient reputation among Southern Baptists to be elected president of their state convention. This happened only two weeks before his church officially sought Southern Baptist affiliation.”
As Hodges looked about him in early 1944, he knew that only a great network of churches in every city, town, and village could accomplish what God would do in the West, Iorg said. New missions and churches had to be started. For this to happen, many more pastors and other church leaders would need to be trained. Hodges prayed more about his lifelong dream and willingness to work toward creating the school he felt was needed.
“Isam Hodges and his wife invited the six deacons of their church and their wives to their home for fellowship and prayer on Thursday evening, March 23, 1944,” Iorg recounted. “One of those attending, caught up in the spirit of the meeting, said, ‘This will go down in history as a great prayer meeting.’ A key feature of the prayer meeting was asking God about starting a new seminary in the West.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press