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This fall we begin celebrating the 25th anniversary of the RTS Orlando campus! We are thankful for the privilege of training more than 1,500 pastors and leaders for the global 21st century church since opening in 1989. In 1998, we moved from our original Maitland location to our permanent site on Long Lake in Oviedo. We view this anniversary as a launching pad for the next 25 years of ministry. Please take a few moments to look through our special Campus Review for 2012 - 2013 and then scroll down further to see a timeline and learn more about the history of God's faithfulness to RTS Orlando!
The RTS Orlando Historical Timeline
The RTS Orlando Story
Due to the changing theological commitments in the Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS) and in the seminaries training its pastors, it was widely recognized by conservative pastors and lay leaders for the need of a new seminary committed to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture and to the theology taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the larger and shorter catechisms. As was commonly quoted at that time “the pulpits of the church were being poisoned by what pastors were then being taught in the PCUS seminaries”.
The need for a new seminary was brought before the Lord in prayer at a prayer meeting held by Rev. Sam Patterson and four other pastors at a meeting in Memphis Tennessee. This began a series of events that led to the founding of Reformed Theological Seminary.
Unable to establish an independent seminary in Memphis, a two story white colonial farm home was purchased on the outskirts of Jackson Mississippi, where 5 faculty and 14 students began classes together in the fall of 1966. That campus of 100 acres soon had multiple buildings which included a new library, Chapel, classroom buildings and faculty offices and grew to serve annually hundreds of students seeking solid Biblical preparation for ministry.
The Jackson campus was faithfully led by Rev. Patterson until his retirement in 1978 at which time Dr. Luder Whitlock was called as the second President of RTS. A new period of unprecedented growth began under Dr. Whilock’s leadership and led to the establishment of new seminary campuses in Orlando, Charlotte, Washington DC and Atlanta making RTS one of the 10 largest seminaries in North America.
The establishment of the Orlando campus was a significant step in the development of the Reformed Seminary. Florida, the fourth largest state in the country was without a fully accredited protestant seminary until the RTS Orlando campus was established in 1989. At that time, there were nay-sayers. Many people said it could not be done. Starting new seminaries campus was far from the norm. But after just 3 years, the Orlando campus had an enrollment of over 400 students and was well on its way to the acquisition of 65 acres of lakefront property and the building of its permanent facilities in Oviedo Florida which were completed in 1998.
Following Dr. Whitlock’s retirement in 2001, changes in administrative structure took place under successor Dr. Ric Cannada, leading to a change in the title of the seminary’s CEO to Chancellor and the election of individual Presidents to lead each of the separate campuses. A long-time member of the Orlando faculty, Dr. Frank James, was appointed President of the Orlando campus in 2004 and was succeeded by Dr. Don Sweeting as President in 2010.
Today the Orlando campus has alumni serving as pastors, counselors, missionaries, educators, active duty chaplains and leaders in ministries around the world. With its international reach, this campus has become a hub of activity for training pastors and leaders for the global church of the 21st century. Serving as the laboratory for the establishment of additional campuses, the Orlando campus also initiated many innovative programs, including the seminary’ distance education program, which now offers three fully online degrees and serves students world-wide.
The Orlando campus is also home to the largest theological library in Florida. It houses the Roger Nicole Collection, an exclusive collections of theological holding acquired by the late Dr. Roger Nicole. It is comprised of over 20,000 volumes of books, periodicals and antiquarian material—some dating back to the 16th century. Dr. Roger Nicole, a theologian of international renown, served as visiting professor of theology at RTS Orlando from 1989-2000.
Much has changed in this world since RTS was first founded almost 50 years ago in Jackson Mississippi, but not the need for well prepare leaders, who are committed to the Bible and the Reformed Faith — and who have a mind for truth and a heart for God. RTS Orlando, and all of the RTS campuses, remain committed to those founding principles.
It is a special day, a special year for us today as we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Orlando campus. Much has been accomplished in 25 short years and for that we give thanks to the Lord. But much remains to be done.
Please join us in our prayer that the Lord provide many more workers for the harvest. There is a need for a new generation of young people who are called to preach and teach and to face the extraordinary challenges of our day. May the Lord allow RTS in the years ahead to see from our labors of preparing pastors, teachers, missionaries, counselors and others, thousands upon thousands of people won to Christ and the establishment of strong and healthy churches all across the US and abroad.