RICHMOND, Va—Alumni of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond searched in vain this year for a booth in the exhibit hall at last week’s Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Fort Worth, Texas, but their alma mater was far from invisible.
Seeking to boost exposure at this year’s assembly, BTSR reallocated money that otherwise would have been used for exhibit space to send students wearing bright blue BTSR T-shirts to spread out through meeting rooms, hallways and the Gathering Place where other CBF partners hawked pen and drink coaster giveaways.
“For us, doing booths has rarely offered a significant presence at Baptist conventions,” said Ron Crawford, president of the 20-year-old seminary. “We didn’t want to do the same old-same old again, so we decided to invest in our students and their experience.”
This spring BTSR held a design contest for students and alumni to submit ideas for a CBF-Fort Worth T-shirt made specifically for the General Assembly. Students wore BTSR gear to differentiate them from the crowd and make them easy to locate throughout the week. They were assigned special times to show up in the Gathering Place to mingle and make their presence known. On Friday, the closing day of the General Assembly, everyone from the BTSR community wore the shirt.
One of the students, Mary Beth Foust, also works for BTSR and is a CBF Leadership Scholar. She said she has attended CBF General Assemblies since she was a young girl and has always enjoyed the experience, but this year was special.
“I think that this year, by not having a booth, BTSR was able to give our students the unique experience of attending General Assembly while claiming their seminary and also being claimed by it,” she said. “My hope in helping to create their schedule was that students would have the opportunity to understand better why BTSR is an identity partner of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.”
“I wanted our students to fully participate in as much of the conference as possible without being limited to one particular carpet square,” Foust said. “By having free rein of the gathering place students were able to network and promote BTSR in a whole new way.”
Jay McNeal, a third-year student and second time BTSR “ambassador” at the General Assembly said not being tied to a booth freed him to assist two workshop leaders, usher for a worship service, attend a chaplains luncheon and vote for the recommendation of the 2012 Task Force.
“In short, I was able to be who I fully am, a Cooperative Baptist seminarian,” McNeal said. “I relayed more of who BTSR is as an engaged participant than I ever did standing at a booth. It was simultaneously meaningful and fun.”
BTSR used some of the money that would have gone toward booth rental to treat alumni to dinner with current students after the state meetings concluded on Thursday evening.
“We issued our students prepaid VISA cards and grouped alumni with them to go out to dinner,” Crawford said. “The whole experience went so well that we may remain boothless in the future.”