Conference’s new partnership with seminary makes theological education accessible

Rev. Tommy Odum, pastor of Roberta UMC, and a few children from the congregation pray over the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes the congregation packed before Christmas. Rev. Odum is a part of the Conference's new partnership with Asbury seminary.
1/8/2018

By Kara Witherow, Editor

By day, Lance Bazemore fights pests and banishes bugs as an exterminator. 

In the evenings the husband and father of two is a student and scholar, taking seminary classes to earn a Master's of Divinity degree.

The South Georgia Conference’s new partnership with Asbury Theological Seminary makes it possible for Bazemore to do both: have a full-time job to support his family and pursue theological education as part of God’s call on his life.

Launched this past September, five South Georgia students are taking part in the college cohort developed by the Office of Congregational Development and Asbury.

What’s unique about this program is that students take classes online and then spend three days together with an Asbury professor at The Chapel’s Brunswick campus and another three days at Asbury Theological Seminary’s Orlando campus. 

“It’s making theological education accessible to those it might not otherwise be accessible to,” said Rev. Jay Hanson, director of Congregational Development and lead pastor of The Chapel. 

A two-year pilot program, the innovative partnership is designed to better train and equip clergy and lay leaders in South Georgia. It allows students to earn 24 hours of seminary credit toward a Masters of Divinity or Masters of Arts degree in ether church planting or leadership at a fraction of the normal cost and without having to leave their current ministry or job.

Bazemore, who has a bachelor’s of science in pastoral ministries, has always had a heart for ministry and feels called to be a teacher. A member of The Chapel, Bazemore just wasn’t sure how seminary would fit into his already full schedule. 

“I didn’t know how it would work, but when this opportunity came up it was a no brainer,” he said of the cohort. “It was as good as it could get.”

Rev. Tommy Odum has served as pastor of Roberta United Methodist Church for the past seven years. A licensed local pastor, he’s in the midst of the candidacy process and joined the cohort to begin his theological education. 

Rev. Odum appreciates the opportunity to connect with other students and build relationships with those going through a similar season. 

“We got a unique opportunity to connect with one another not just online but in person,” he said. That also allowed for collaboration and helpful dialogue between classmates that isn’t often fostered in online classrooms. “Having the support of my peers in a small group - almost an accountability group - and keeping each other motivated through the process was the main benefit of the cohort for me.”

Seminary was never part of Jacy Robertson’s plan, but the cohort has given her the opportunity to learn and grow without leaving home. After serving four years on Camp Connect’s leadership team and completing the Conference’s Young Clergy Academy intern program, Robertson also appreciates the opportunity to attend seminary debt free while working full time. 

“I really want to learn and gain more knowledge so I can become better at what I do and serve my students better,” said Robertson, who serves as the children’s coordinator and co-youth pastor at The Chapel and as a Wesley Foundation leader at the College of Coastal Georgia. “I knew that if I could be more educated and learn more I could then pour that out into them with a better understanding of who Jesus is.”

Linking seminary theological education with the ministry of the local church has has long been a dream of Rev. Hanson’s. 

“The tension generated between the academic endeavor and the practical application of real life ministry creates a synergy for effective ministry grounded in solid theology. Without the theological training, ministry can slip way off course, and without practical application through real ministry, theological education can become completely irrelevant,” he said. “I think the two go hand and hand, and I am very thankful that our conference has this opportunity. Plus it makes getting a theological education possible for a lot of people who would not be able to if we didn’t offer it.”

Bazemore is one. 

“The way they have this formatted has made it possible for me to do well and have time for my family, which is more important. The benefit is so great,” he said, noting that he and his wife, Chelsea, have a great sense of purpose through the program and their shared ministry. “It’s been a blessing for me. It’s been an encouragement because I went through a long period when I wasn’t sure I would be able to get back into ministry. So when this door opened it made it possible.”

For more information about the South Georgia Conference’s partnership with Asbury Theological Seminary, contact Rev. Jay Hanson at jay@thechapelministries.com or (912) 262-1331.