For the 12th consecutive year, the entire campus community came together to “celebrate the college’s Baptist tradition and its ongoing relationship with Virginia Baptists.” The occasion, according to Vice President for Student Development David Taylor, is designed to “help students, faculty, staff and the community at-large remember that Bluefield College is a Baptist college,” and as a Baptist-affiliated institution there are “certain ideals the college cherishes and celebrates.”
As part of the annual celebration, Bryant Moxley, head of BC’s Department of Music, led participants in the singing of traditional Baptist hymns, including “How Firm a Foundation.” He also shared how early Baptist congregations did not allow the singing of hymns during services. He closed the musical portion of the program by leading BC’s select student voice ensemble, Variations, in the singing of additional Baptist favorites, including “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
Dr. Leonard, retired dean and current professor of church history at Wake Divinity School, offered the day’s keynote address. Dr. Leonard, who taught church history in college to BC President David Olive, spoke about the context of faith by sharing personal stories of the circumstances of his own faith, including his first Sunday school teacher, his first Bible, and his first profession of faith.
He also recounted personal experiences in Baptist churches, Appalachian churches, and African-American churches, all to encourage BC students to consider the context in which religion or faith was introduced to them.
“Faith comes to us in context,” said Dr. Leonard, author of the books Baptists in America and Baptist Questions, Baptist Answers. “These moments, these personal experiences shaped my faith. The context of faith shapes how we understand it.”
Faith, said Dr. Leonard, also comes to us in traditions — the tradition of the King James Version of the Bible, the quarterly Sunday school booklet, the old offering envelope, Baptism, and communion. Faith, he concluded, comes to us through the text of scripture.
“The text of scripture can take us to places we never thought to go,” said Dr. Leonard, who is the first James and Marilyn Dunn Chair of Baptist Studies at Wake Divinity School, “and allow us to accomplish things we never imagined.”
Dr. Leonard joins a long list of Baptist historians who have helped Bluefield College celebrate its annual Baptist Heritage Day, including Dr. J. Bradley Creed, a former Baptist pastor and longtime Baptist higher education professor and administrator; Dr. James M. Dunn, former executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs; and Dr. Joseph T. Lewis, former president of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.