by J. Norfleete Day
Twenty-five years ago today, the new divinity school of Samford University held its first chapel session. Norfleete Day was a student in that inaugural class. Dr. Day would go on to earn a Ph. D. and later join the faculty at Beeson Divinity School, where she taught for many years. Dr. Day graciously agreed to share some of her memories of that first semester.
I thought the summer of 1988 would never end. Having felt led of the Lord to enroll in the newly announced Divinity School that would be inaugurated at Samford University that fall, I felt an avid eagerness to get into the adventure. As a forty-something adult, who had been and was continuing to work full-time, I would be a part-time student, but that status didn’t make me any less intoxicated with the desire to start my seminary experience by studying Biblical Greek and Church History. The curriculum was limited that first semester, but it didn’t matter because all the students were new. Indeed, everybody was new—Dean George and two others comprised the faculty, and thirty-one of us comprised the student body. To my delight, four of us were women. Mrs. Joyce Cox, the one and only secretary, took care of answering the phone and registering students for classes, in addition to handling Dean George’s correspondence and other administrative tasks. She was a blessing to us all with her kind and caring spirit, her overwhelming desire to help us with any and everything, and her keen sense of responsibility.
Because we students were a small group, all of us taking most of the same courses, we had many new experiences to share. I remember the first day of Greek class, in particular. My own feelings were a mixture of excitement and apprehension, but excitement was dominant. Dr. Richard Wells, who would be teaching us, did not disappoint me. He strode into the classroom, and after greeting us warmly, opened his Greek New Testament to 1 John. With great enthusiasm, he read the Greek in short phrases, following each phrase with its English translation. His rendering of verse one remains in my memory even these twenty-five years later: “That which was from the beginning, which our ears have heard (and which keeps on ringing in our ears), which our eyes have seen, which we continue to gaze upon, and which our hands have handled concerning the Word of life . . .”. His explanation of the Greek perfect tense, illustrated by those participial phrases, ignited my heart with a passion for the Greek New Testament that has never diminished.
Church history with Dean George provided its own rewards. Every Beeson alum knows that Dean George is a skilled lecturer who makes church history come alive. He can transport the listener, in his or her imagination, to the very time discussed so that you almost feel yourself a participant in the events. I soaked it up like a sponge absorbing spilled water. So many ideas, people, and movements that I had heard of, but knew little about, he brought to life and enabled me to put together a sense of the flow of Christian history from its earliest days up to the present.
In addition to the excitement of the classroom, I was enriched enormously by my classmates. Perhaps our awareness of being the first class of students in this new school made us feel privileged. A spirit of openness and community marked our interactions with one another from the beginning. As early as the orientation and registration days, we were seeking to know one another in depth, learning what had brought each one to this day of new beginnings, not just for a school, but for each student. I formed deep and lasting attachments to my fellow students and to those faculty members that still remain strong. Without a doubt, those earliest days of Beeson Divinity School were some of the richest I have known. The memories, the friendships, the learning are among my most treasured possessions. I thank God for them, for Dean George, for Mr. Beeson, for Samford University. All have been agents of great blessing in my life.
The first class of students and faculty at Beeson Divinity School, September 3, 1988