by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS Communications
NEW ORLEANS — Celebrating 20 years of a women’s ministry program and its impact around the world, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary honored Rhonda Harrington Kelley, wife of NOBTS President Chuck Kelley, for her integral role in the NOBTS program.
The presentation in chapel Sept. 26 was followed by a luncheon in Kelley’s honor where the Rhonda Harrington Kelley Scholarship benefiting women in academics was announced, with details forthcoming.
Dorothy Kelley Patterson, wife of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson and Kelley’s sister-in-law, praised her in remarks at the luncheon.
“She is in the Titus 2 tradition a spiritually mature woman, a spiritual mother to many women in this room and to countless others, not only on the campus now but scattered throughout the world,” Patterson said.
NOBTS offers women’s ministry certificates at the undergraduate and graduate levels, an undergraduate minor in women’s ministry and concentrations in women’s ministry with graduate degrees. A ministry wife certificate is also offered.
Women from across the nation and as far away as Kodiak Island in Alaska, Canada and Ghana are enrolled.
A pastor’s wife in Ghana traveled last year to New Orleans to experience an on-campus class. She wrote on the online class discussion board, “It is so good to see women coming together to study and using their gifts to serve one another and the Lord.”
Chuck Kelley, in remarks at the luncheon, recounted that the women’s ministry program began to take root in 1992 when Rhonda Kelley was appointed by then-Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Young Sr. to a task force examining women’s roles in the SBC and was birthed following her involvement in Lifeway’s Women’s Leadership Forum in 1996. The timing was providential, Kelley said, as the seminary was considering at the time a new educational model — a certificate program.
Tracing the beginnings back further, Chuck Kelley pointed to a difficult moment when as a young couple they learned they could not have children and together knelt in prayer and said “Yes” to God’s will for their lives. Speaking and writing opportunities for Rhonda Kelley came soon afterward and grew into a ministry to women spanning two decades.
“We had no idea where that ‘Yes’ was going to take us,” Chuck Kelley said, turning to his wife. “It’s been a joy for me to walk the road with you.”
Rhonda Kelley and Dorothy Patterson edited the 2014 Holman Study Bible for Women; the Old Testament and New Testament volumes of the Holman Women’s Evangelical Commentary; The Devotional for Women; and the forthcoming Psalms-Proverbs Devotional for Women. Their editorial leadership produced the 1995 Woman’s Study Bible by Thomas Nelson Publishers, which has sold 1.5 million copies.
“God gave my sister Dorothy a passion for the biblical and theological foundations of the role of women in the church and in the home and in the world,” Chuck Kelley said. “And God gave Rhonda a passion for the nuts and bolts of how to mobilize women to do ministry in the local church.”
Courses such as Multicultural Women’s Ministry; Expanding Your Women’s Ministry through Writing; Bible Study for Women; Biblical Womanhood; Girl’s Enrichment Ministry and others are included in the program curriculum.
Emily Dean, NOBTS coordinator of women’s programs, introduced the morning chapel service presentation by praising Kelley as “a very special champion of women’s academics.”
Courtney Veasey, NOBTS director of women’s academic programs, linked Kelley’s ministry to the “thousands” of women impacted by her reflection of Proverbs 31.
“Many of us, and the special guests who are here today, count ourselves blessed to be among that quiver of yours that rise up and count you blessed,” Veasey said in reference to Proverbs 31:28.
Judi Jackson, student services director at the NOBTS North Georgia Extension Center, said she is amazed in her classes for women to have students each semester from all regions, all backgrounds and all ages.
One student described in an email to Jackson that she lives on “an island in the middle of the ocean in Alaska, the land of the Kodiak bears,” but that the program has allowed her to “follow God’s calling to serve women.”
“Mostly I’m amazed at their stories,” Jackson said. “How God wouldn’t let them just sit in the church pew week after week but instead called them out to lead other women, even though they didn’t feel equipped or prepared. I’m so thankful they found NOBTS.”