Longtime friends share ministry path, graduation date comment (0)
June 28, 2012
By Melissa Gerrish
The moment symbolized years of hard work and sacrifice, but it was also a reunion — of sorts — for two Alabama Baptists when they graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary on May 12.
Barry Cosper, director of missions for Tallapoosa Baptist Association, and Clarke Skelton, pastor of Valley Grande Baptist Church, Selma, first crossed paths at Samford University in the 1970s.
Cosper graduated in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in religion and a minor in business administration. Skelton followed just two years later in 1976 with a bachelor’s in religion and a minor in speech and drama. The duo took religion classes together and were active in intramural sports and the Samford Ministerial Association, Skelton said.
“I have always had the utmost respect for Clarke as a friend and Christian,” Cosper said.
After graduating from Samford, Cosper worked as an accountant for a little more than three years. During those years he and his wife, Cathy, visited three seminaries before deciding on Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Skelton and his wife, Anita, immediately went to Southern after graduating from Samford in 1976. Cosper and Skelton graduated from Southern in 1980 with master of divinity degrees.
During seminary, Cosper pastored New Liberty Baptist Church, Owen County, Ky. Skelton served First Baptist Church, Henryville, Ind., as student minister, and Cross Plains Baptist Church, Cross Plains, Ind., as pastor. After graduation Skelton continued to serve as pastor of Cross Plains Baptist for another year and briefly enrolled in Southern’s doctorate in evangelism program.
Cosper began to serve as pastor of churches in Alabama. He attended Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., working on a doctor of ministry (D.Min.) degree in prayer and church growth.
He completed the course requirements for the degree but not the doctoral project.
Skelton and his wife started Lakeside Baptist Mission, a mission of Calvary Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa. “Shortly after beginning our tenure at Lakeside, Anita and I felt that God was renewing our calling to international missions, which He had given to both of us several years earlier,” Skelton said.
“As a result of God’s leading, I withdrew from the doctoral program at Southern Seminary and decided I would probably pursue a D.Min. degree in evangelism when God opened the doors for that study in the future.”
After a 15-month process the Skeltons were appointed as representatives of the International Mission Board in 1985 and served for the next 15 years in South Korea.
“During our 15 years, I often asked God if the time was right for me to pursue my D.Min. degree; but each time because of ministry and family considerations, I decided that God was not yet opening the door for me to pursue that degree,” Skelton said.
“We were blessed to be Southern Baptist representatives to South Korea for 15 years and God gave us a fruitful ministry and many wonderful Korean friends there.”
However, after 15 years of ministry in South Korea, extended family health issues brought the Skeltons back to the United States in 2000.
To their sorrow, Skelton and his wife realized they had lost touch with many old friends.
“I was very surprised how many people that I had considered close friends before we went to Korea stopped communicating with us altogether. I grieved the loss of several significant friendships from my Samford and Southern Seminary days during our years in Korea. But I remember that Barry always kept in touch with us,” Skelton said.
“Whenever I was in the U.S., I clearly remember how Barry always took time to ask about our work and our family experiences so that he could stay in contact with us and pray for us,” Skelton added.
“God used them greatly in South Korea,” Cosper said. “Our friendship reconnected after Clarke and his family moved back to Alabama. Clarke was a very effective pastor with a zeal to honor God and to see people come to Christ,” Cosper continued. “Clarke has a Kingdom heart.”
After becoming a director of missions, Cosper decided he wanted to finish his doctoral studies in denominational leadership at New Orleans.
Cosper did not realize that he and Skelton would again be graduating together until a few weeks before graduation.
“I found out when the doctor of ministry office sent out a communication email that included the email addresses of students graduating,” he said.
Although Skelton had always intended to pursue his doctoral studies since withdrawing from the program in 1981, because of God’s leadership and family needs he completed his studies 31 years later.
He received his diploma wearing his father’s doctoral robe.
“My father, I. Cole Skelton, received an honorary doctoral degree from Samford University in 1980. He was given a doctoral robe by his brothers and sisters when he received his degree and he passed his robe on to me before his death in February 2006,” Skelton said. “I was honored to be able to wear my father’s robe when I received my doctor of ministry degree on May 12.”