on Thursday, June 15, 2023

More than 4,000 friends and dignitaries gathered in front of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College June 14 to celebrate the dedication of the Fred Luter Jr. Student Center and the presentation of a state resolution and local proclamations honoring “the pastor of New Orleans.” 

The smell of New Orleans’ signature char-grilled oysters cooking onsite and the sound of the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church (FABC) choir singing filled the evening air as the crowd gathered in front of a building that once housed a well-known clothing department store.

Jamie Dew, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College president, turned to Luter during the ceremony and asked him to notice the large crowd gathered.

“Do you see them?” Dew asked. “Do you see the people you’ve had an impact on? Do you see the people throughout our convention that you have had an impact on?

“You have been faithful. You have been diligent. You have labored hard and God, through your humble obedience to Jesus Christ, has used you profoundly,” Dew continued. “We celebrate you tonight, my friend.”

Tony Evans, LifeWay author, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and president of the Urban Alternative, sent his video congratulations to his “good friend” and praised Luter for his impact and investment in the SBC.

“Most important of all is your commitment to our great God and His word, your faithful proclamation and dedication and illustration of kingdom commitment,” Evans said. “I am proud to be your friend. I am proud as an African American to join you in this first-in-a-lifetime opportunity and recognition. I hope generations to come will come to know and appreciate the life and legacy of Pastor Fred Luter.”

The Fred Luter Jr. Student Center houses NOBTS and Leavell College offices, classrooms, student study carrels, the North American Mission Board Church Planting Center, and the Global Mission Center in partnership with the International Mission Board. The building faces the busy Gentilly Blvd. that runs in front of the seminary.

Elizabeth Luter, wife of Fred Luter Jr., was honored in a surprise announcement that drew shouts and cheering from the crowd. Dew announced that the newly renovated student study carrels inside the Fred Luter Jr. Student Center were named in her honor.  

“He calls you his ‘prime rib’ so we thought it was fitting that something inside would be named after you,” Dew said.

Gary Shows, the chairman of the NOBTS and Leavell College board of trustees in 2022 at the time the board unanimously voted to name the center in Luter’s honor, said Luter is known widely as “the pastor of New Orleans” for his leadership and for the “special place he holds in the hearts of NOBTS and the city.”

Waylon Bailey, current chairman of the board of trustees and pastor of First Baptist Church, Covington, Louisiana, praised Luter’s impactful ministry and told of the first time he heard Luter’s name decades earlier. Bailey recounted hearing that Luter was “the new pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church and is reaching men for Christ.”

Bailey pointed also to the significance of Luter’s election as SBC president and the thrill of being backstage at the convention when the election was announced and seeing the smiles tears of the crowd in celebration.

SBC leaders present for the event included president Bart Barber and Willie McLaurin, interim president and CEO of the Executive Committee. Present also were Paul Chitwood, IMB president; Jason Allen, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president; Jonathan Howe, vice president for communications, SBC Executive committee; Ben Mandrell, Lifeway president and CEO; former SBC presidents Ed Litton and Jim Henry, and numerous executive committee members and NOBTS trustees, and others. 

Dew recognized the many politicians and city dignitaries in the crowd and welcomed them to speak.

State Senator Joseph Bouie Jr. announced Senate Resolution No. 167 that commended Luter for being “an exemplary leader, devoted servant, and unwavering advocate for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Bouie, along with State Representatives Jason Hughes and Matthew Willard, authored and sponsored the resolution. The resolution reads that the occasion marks “one of the first buildings named for an African American on a Southern Baptist Convention seminary campus” and notes Luter’s service as the first African American president of the SBC.

The senate resolution praises Luter’s commitment to the New Orleans community with service marked by “compassion, vision, and dedication to empowering others to live transformed lives in Christ.” The resolution further commends Luter for his “selfless service, exemplary leadership, and transformative impact on the lives of countless individuals.”

Further recognition came from the city of New Orleans.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell noted the importance of the faith community to the city and praised Luter for his legacy. 

New Orleans City Councilmen Eugene J. Green Jr. presented a city proclamation honoring Luter’s lifelong ministry  in New Orleans that is “exemplary and greatly appreciated.” City Councilmen Oliver Thomas presented a proclamation that included Luke 14:11 and praised Luter and his “devoted” wife Elizabeth Luter and reads, “Your warm demeanor and your passion to share the gospel continues to edify the Body of Christ.”

Other acclamation came from James Baker, representing City Councilman at Large J. P. Morrell, whose proclamation praised Luter’s dramatic faith conversion after a 1977 motorcycle accident, calling him a “pillar in New Olreans and a giant among faith leaders.” 

Dew recounted that as a new Christian he listened to Luter’s sermons on cassette tape and admired him as a “hero of the faith.” Dew said his admiration for Luter did not change after meeting Luter four years ago when he came to NOBTS as president.

“Southern Baptists, I know you know him. I know you love him. I know that you esteem him … but I can tell you having lived four years in this city, and seeing the impact … God has made through him, that this man is exactly who we always thought he was.”

Frank Williams, immediate past president of the National African American Fellowship and senior pastor of the Bronx Baptist Church, concluded the program with a prayer of dedication for the center. 

The crowd marched into the student center after the ribbon cutting through a New Orleans signature style celebratory “second line” as participants march in line behind a jazz band. The celebration continued with traditional New Orleans cuisine.