Carson-Newman’s Baptist Collegiate Ministries celebrates 90 years

Campus News | June 20, 2014

(June 18, 2014)— A milestone birthday is being celebrated this year at Carson-Newman University.

Since its inception in 1924, Carson-Newman University’s Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) has shaped the lives of countless students who have in turn carried the gospel across the world. Once known as the Baptist Student Union, the 90-year-old body has produced thousands of alumni, many of whom established well-known ministries and programs.

“Students make, and have been making, very important life decisions here,” said BCM Director the Rev. Nenette Measels, who has helped lead the group’s yearlong birthday celebration. “Being able to walk with them during their faith journeys is very special.”

The ministry’s work, which includes spring and fall break mission outreach trips called SPOTS (Special Projects Other Than Summer), is a key factor in helping students define their goals and in shaping life decisions. Measels says many choose to serve the same ministry or agency each year and use their experience after leaving Carson-Newman.

This legacy of continued service dates back to the organization’s roots. Sibley Burnett was a student in the preparatory department (high school), which Carson-Newman offered in 1922. According to Tennessee BCM historian Charles Nored, Burnett was “a natural conversationalist” who helped lead Carson-Newman students caught up in a Southern Baptist movement that was drawing fervor across the nation.

Matriculating to Carson-Newman’s college curriculum, Burnett recalled the fledgling group’s establishment in a 1926 issue of The Baptist Student. “In December 1922, a group of workers met to talk about a plan to unify the religious activities and to create a deeper spiritual atmosphere on the campus. Every member of that group prayed for this one thing. God answered our prayers.”

Choosing “The Religious Council at Carson-Newman College” as its name, members worked to build the ranks. After taking a large contingent to Chattanooga’s First Baptist Church for a regional conference in spring of 1923, the group was chartered as an official campus organization the following year. It adopted Baptist Student Union as its new name during Academic Year 1927-28.

Burnett would go on to use his organizational expertise and love for the gospel in a denominational service career. Given the popularity of program manuals and workshops developed for reaching children, the beloved “Mr. Vacation Bible School” retired from the Baptist Sunday School Board in 1967.

The success of Carson-Newman’s BCM has been dependent on interest at the grass-roots level, says former director Ircel Harrison (1980-84). “Students are the ones who make (it) work. My role was to be supportive and request resources to help do their work.”

Harrison’s support of student initiatives led Carson-Newman to become one of the largest sources of summer missionaries through the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) in the 1980s.

The foundation of equipping student missionaries had begun in 1947 with what was classified as a foreign mission trip to the U.S. territory of Hawaii. It sparked a career-long fire for Carson-Newman student Web Carroll, who led more than a dozen students from several campuses to partner with Honolulu’s Hilo Baptist Church. Carroll would ultimately retire from the International Mission Board after 42 years in East Africa.

Missions work took on a new dimension when 1972 Carson-Newman alumnus Jim Wilson was named director of Carson-Newman’s BCM. Shortly after beginning the job in 1984, Wilson agreed to the request of students to help impoverished families near campus. That effort, Appalachian Outreach, has been at the forefront of changing circumstances for thousands of families in a five-county region surrounding campus over the last 30 years.

Carson-Newman’s BCM reached much of the globe without leaving home when Knoxville hosted the World’s Fair in 1982. Student volunteers used the opportunity to share their testimonies and performances through Seed Company. Seed Company began as a puppet/variety ministry and developed into the BCM worship band that continues to serve on campus and through annual tours.

The heartbeat of missions and service still pumps life into BCM, as evidenced by 170 spring break volunteers who in 2014 made up 11 teams and served across six states and two foreign countries. This summer, more than 75 Carson-Newman-sponsored students are investing themselves in projects in a dozen countries. The work continues, as do opportunities for partnership.

Each birthday celebration and event for the 90th anniversary has sought to raise support for a new vehicle to help transport those who carry out BCM’s mission. Measels says a full-size van is crucial for the organization to be effective in reaching service sites, mission trips and Seed Company performances. Those seeking more information should contact BCM at (865) 471-3537 or Measels at nmeasels@cn.edu.