Hood Seminary celebrates

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 13, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — In the decade since Hood Theological Seminary became independent of Livingstone College, the student population has flourished, prompting both academic and physical growth.
Enrollment has nearly tripled since the seminary became a separate entity in 2001.
Ned Storey, trustee emeritus, said breaking away from Livingstone has allowed the seminary to progress.
“It was just a great move for Hood,” he said.
Hood President Dr. Albert Aymer attributes much of the growth to the school’s ability to offer the Doctor of Ministry degree, which has attracted students from a variety of backgrounds.
“We now have diversity in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, denomination and race,” he said.
Dr. Dora Mbuwayesango, associate professor of Old Testament, said since coming to the seminary in 1995 she’s seen the number of denominations represented grow to at least 16.
“When I came, most of the students were A.M.E. Zion, and there were a few Baptists; now we have representations from all denominations,” she said.
Aymer said in order to offer the doctoral degree that fueled Hood’s success, the seminary had to break away from Livingstone because the school’s accreditation level didn’t allow for advanced degrees.
“I realized that waiting for Livingstone to get promoted would keep the seminary back,” he said. “We would probably still be there now not being able to offer a doctoral degree.”
Aymer said being able to offer that degree was vital to the seminary’s progression.
“It enables us to be even more widely ecumenical,” he said.
The program also allows the seminary to serve pastors who are mid-career.
“That’s an important thing to do because you are impacting congregations through the students who participate in it,” Aymer said.
Aymer said the program also prevents pastoral burnout.
“It infuses them with new vision, new understanding of what the ministry is about,” he said. “It’s a very vital program for the effectiveness in the ministry of the church.”
Dr. Dick Martin, trustee emeritus, said since adding the doctoral degree the United Methodist Church has approved the seminary as a school for training its ministers.
“That has made it possible to attract students that we might not otherwise attract,” he said.
New space
Aymer said the biggest challenge the seminary has faced since separating from Livingstone has been finding a facility to meet its needs.
“We wanted to relocate to a place that could accommodate a growing institution like this,” he said.
The seminary remained in Livingstone’s building at the end of West Thomas Street until 2005.
“The building where we were in was built to accommodate about 50 students,” he said. “When we split we had well over 100 students.”
Offices and classrooms were in “one little building,” Aymer said.
As the seminary began searching for a new place to call home, Mona Lisa Wallace, a partner in the law firm of Wallace & Graham, suggested the former Days Inn Hotel off Interstate 85.
“She asked would an older hotel work and we said ‘yes,’” Aymer said. “At the time we said yes we didn’t have a dime to buy it.”
Aymer said the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church stepped in to purchase the property. The church also provided money for the renovation.
Margaret Kluttz, Hood’s development officer, said the seminary raised the additional funds needed for the remodel through community support.
The property was dedicated in July 2004 and opened for classes the following fall.
“The new campus is far superior to what we had in the single old building on Livingstone’s campus,” Martin said.
Since breaking away from Livingstone, Aymer has implemented several things he believes are essential to a thriving seminary.
First, he worked to host annual public lectures with varying topics.
“It infuses both the community and the school with knowledge from some of the leading persons in specific fields,” Aymer said. “Education helps you to see people differently, see the work differently, live differently.”
Next, Aymer worked to create eight endowed scholarships.
“We didn’t have any,” he said. “We needed those to help our students pay the bills.”
Before separating from Livingstone, Aymer completely retooled Hood’s curriculum, modeling it after the divinity schools of Yale, Duke and Drew universities.
“I looked at what was good in all three and what I thought needed to be distinctive about Hood,” he said.
Aymer said the seminary also began an extension program in Alabama in 2006.
The program, set up on the campus of Lomax Hannon College in Greenville, Ala., is facilitated through interactive video conferencing. The technology allows students there to attend classes hosted in Salisbury, listening and talking with professors through cameras and microphones.
The first set of graduates from the Alabama campus participated in commencement last spring.
Aymer’s leadership
Storey said Aymer’s leadership has propelled the seminary foward since he joined the staff in 1994.
“He’s just been wonderful,” he said. “He’s so talented. Everybody appreciates his good work.”
Martin said there is no question that Hood has thrived in Aymer’s hands.
Kluttz said Aymer is always looking toward the future.
“He has pushed forward to keep getting better,” she said. “In spite of tough times, he’s kept the aim high.
“He’s pushed and Hood’s become stronger because of those tough times.”
But Aymer said as Hood marks its 10-year anniversary as a separate institution, he attributes the success to the “grace of God.”
“It’s a combination of things,” he said. “The support of the church, the benefactors who looked upon us kindly and, of course, careful management of our resources.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.