New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's (NOBTS) commitment to the Big Easy has survived Hurricane Katrina, as the school's trustees voted to restore the ravaged and deserted campus in time for the fall 2006 semester.

Hurricane Katrina winds and flooding caused an estimated $20 million in damage and sent students, faculty, and staff to Atlanta and other cities to continue studies in temporary facilities. But after reviewing the damage and costs, the trustees voted unanimously September 27 to keep the school in New Orleans. The seminary's property in the city is still valued at $70 million.

"New Orleans is no place for the faint of heart, but we need to be there," said NOBTS president Chuck Kelley. "There is a terrific opportunity for the gospel."

NOBTS, one of the largest seminaries in the world, was evacuated as the hurricane approached. About 80 percent of the 2,200 students based at the main campus are continuing their studies at 16 satellite locations. The administrative office buildings are largely intact, but the housing is badly damaged. One unique characteristic of the urban seminary is that much of the seminary family lives together on the 85-acre campus—including 500 student families and half of the faculty and staff.

"Four days after the hurricane, we pulled together the administrative team and many faculty and staff in Atlanta," Kelley explained. "We grieved, cried, and prayed, then got to work figuring out how we could keep people on their degree plans, and how we could offer assistance to seminary families."

This is not the first time the seminary faced a decision about staying in New Orleans. In 1986, a seminary task force studied an opportunity to relocate the seminary to the suburbs, but the trustees voted to remain in the city.

"The future of the church depends on its ability to minister in urban settings," Kelley said. "So we are well placed in a tough, transitional urban neighborhood halfway between downtown and Lake Pontchartrain."

Most of the seminary's New Orleans-based students are studying alongside 1,800 extension students at the satellite campuses, but about 400 decided not to continue with NOBTS, due to logistics or finances. Some have signed on with other seminaries, officials said, although they are not certain how many. But, the NOBTS diaspora now knows their time away will be temporary.

Related Elsewhere:

New Orleans Baptist Seminary has a letter to the seminary family from the seminary's president (.PDF) as well as information for those interested in helping.

Baptist Press coverage of the seminary includes:

Volunteers sought for cleanup at New Orleans Seminary | New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary will launch a major volunteer cleanup initiative Oct. 31, giving Southern Baptists an opportunity to assist with the restoration and renewal of on-campus housing at NOBTS. (Oct 20, 2005)
Fall classes continue at New Orleans Seminary | Despite the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's campus, the fall semester will continue, Provost Steve Lemke said. (Sep 13, 2005)
Relief for New Orleans Seminary families is top priority | New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary officials met in Atlanta Sept. 1 to begin the long process of healing from Hurricane Katrina. Providing for the immediate needs of seminary families was their top priority. (Sep 1, 2005)
New Orleans seminarians, faculty receive 'outpouring of support' | Thanks to the compassionate response by Southern Baptists, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is helping members of the seminary family recover from Hurricane Katrina. (Sep 13, 2005)

Earlier CT coverage of Katrina includes:

Hurricane Heroes | Government may have been tripped up by Katrina and Rita, but the Southern Baptists, among others, are standing tall. (Oct. 21, 2005)
Why? | Victims and pundits grope for meaning, political and religious. (Oct. 21, 2005)
The Katrina Quandary | America questions the role of Christian charity. (Oct. 20, 2005)

More Christianity Today coverage of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and their aftermath is at our full coverage area.

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