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Welch College President Matt Pinson announced to faculty Monday that Welch had received a grant of nearly $500,000 from the Kern Family Foundation to start a five-year B.A.-to-M.Div. program, and that the college’s Board of Trustees approved the program and voted to start a new school of Welch College, Welch Divinity School, next year. This grant will allow Welch to begin offering the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree in fall of 2021.

Pinson said, “The offering of an M.Div., the first one offered by a Free Will Baptist institution, and the establishment of a divinity school attached to Welch College, is a dream come true for us. No longer will Free Will Baptists have to go outside our denomination for their M.Div. We have hoped and dreamt for an M.Div. program for many years, and many in our denomination have wanted us to start one. Frankly, I didn’t imagine we’d be doing this so soon. Yet this grant gives us the wonderful opportunity to initiate the M.Div. now. I want to thank Mrs. Anna McAffee, our grants administrator, for her diligent and creative work in helping us get this grant.”

Provost Matthew McAffee said, “We’re so thankful that we were approached about putting together a proposal to offer a five-year B.A.-to-M.Div. degree and then were awarded this grant. This also opens up the possibility for graduates of other colleges to earn an M.Div. at Welch. There have been so many requests from pastors and churches for a Free Will Baptist M.Div. program at Welch. With this new program, it’s possible for students to begin at Welch and complete a B.A. and a regionally accredited M.Div. in five years—something that normally takes seven.”

“But people who already have a bachelor’s degree, even if it’s not in a theological field, are eligible to study for and complete this M.Div.,” McAffee continued. “We’ve been hearing from more and more people in our denomination who feel the need for further ministry education in our increasingly secular society, and this grant allows us to meet this growing need.”

The Divinity School will be structured similarly to those of institutions such as Samford University, which has a Department of Biblical and Religious Studies and also Beeson Divinity School, a graduate professional school that offers the M.Div. degree. Thus Welch’s existing School of Theology will continue to offer the baccalaureate programs in theology and ministry as well as the M.A. in Theology and Ministry, a hybrid degree that utilizes both online and on-campus delivery systems. Welch Divinity School, which will house the M.Div. degree, will build on the upper-level undergraduate coursework and the M.A. core provided by the School of Theology.

“We’re conceiving of the M.Div. program as a full on-campus program,” McAffee said. “The upper-level undergraduate coursework can be earned on campus by traditional college-age students or online by students age 23 or older. The core in the M.A. will be earned in a hybrid format through both online work and one-week, on-campus intensive sessions. The M.Div.-only coursework will be earned entirely on campus. Eventually, we hope donor funding will allow us to move the entirety of the coursework for this program on campus. Furthermore, we want to emphasize that the M.Div. will be open to graduates of other colleges who want to earn an M.Div., as well as to undergraduate students who want to pursue the B.A.-to-M.Div. program.”

The Kern grant will provide funding for a new full-time faculty member, a new full-time administrator/recruiter, and a half-time assistant. College officials hope to have administrative staff in place by January 2021 to begin recruiting for the first incoming class in the Fall semester of 2021. Free Will Baptists on the ordination track who begin the program as an undergraduate are eligible for $10,000 per year in scholarships for the first eight semesters of the program.

Pinson said, “I ask the denomination and our alumni and supporters to pray for this new initiative that will move the Free Will Baptist Church into an exciting new era of ministerial and theological education.”

Details will be forthcoming. In the meantime, for more information, please contact Dr. Barry Raper at braper@welch.edu.

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