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River Regions Theological College holds 2020/2021 commencement

LAPLACE — The community is invited to support the River Regions Theological College graduating classes of 2020/2021 as they experience a ray of light following a year of darkness. These graduates successfully adapted to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic while looking to God for silver linings, and they can now enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Graduates are as follows: Doctorate degree – Shantrell M. Byrd, Davon Gardner, Lynelle Chapman Jacque and Tyra Kenner; master’s certificate – Lisa Ann Castanel and Stacey Eugene Wilson; graduate specialist certificate – Raymond Frank Jr. and Wanda Chapman Henry; and third year certification – Dianne Smith.

A baccalaureate service on Monday, June 28 will be followed by a commencement ceremony on Tuesday, June 29. Both events will be held at 7 p.m. at Bethlehem Baptist Church, located at 146 E. 20th Street in Reserve.

Guest speakers will be Dr. Donald R. Berryhill of First Zion Baptist Church of New Orleans and Dr. Donald Hunter Sr. of New Beginning Baptist Church of Baton Rouge. This year’s commencement will honor living legend Dr. M.J. Anderson, who previously served as a dean for a theological college in the River Region.

RSVP is encouraged but not required. Please contact Dr. Shantrell Byrd at 504-452-8705 to RSVP. In an effort to make everyone in attendance feel safe, the River Regions Theological College staff asks that all visitors wear a face mask.

River Regions Theological College President Dr. Forell Bering said this commencement ceremony is a breath of fresh air and a testament to the great things happening in the River Parishes. Like the pleasant surprise of a beautiful rose growing in a junkyard, the graduates’ perseverance is proof that blessings can be borne out of difficult circumstances.

“We were doing our classes virtually. In addition to that, we made personal contact when it was necessary, and that teaching literally came right on time to help fulfill families’ emotional needs,” Bering said. “We never wavered. We kept the ball moving.”

While River Regions Theological College was founded just short of eight years ago, the roots of the school go back much further. The Rev. Albert Bailey Sr. and the Rev. Forell Bering Sr. grew as brothers in Christ as they attended Christian Bible College in Kenner and obtained their doctorate degrees in theology in 1983.

Christian Bible College was founded by the late Dr. A.P. Clay. After Hurricane Katrina, his son Dr. Byron Clay founded A.P. Clay Bible College with Bering installed as the school president and Bailey as the school dean. Bering and Bailey became alumni theological professors and taught until 2011.

After much thought and prayer, they gained a vision to expand opportunities in the River Region. River Regions Theological College was formed out of a need to properly equip students with the credentials needed to move forward in ministry.

After some delays from Hurricane Isaac in 2012, River Regions Theological College was founded on August 8, 2013 in New Sarpy. Bailey was the president and Bering was as the vice president, serving along with school dean Dr. Curtis P. Stacey and treasurer Dr. Otis Kenner II. Classes were held on Monday and Friday, with chapel experience on Monday at St. Matthew Baptist Church in New Sarpy. The student body started out with several graduate and undergraduate students from A.P. Clay Bible College, St. Matthew B.C. in New Sarpy, New Union Church in Taft, and River of Life Christian Center in New Sarpy. Expansion was concentrated in the River Region area, inclusive of St. Charles, St. John, Ascension, Jefferson, and Orleans parishes.

As the school grew from 2017 to 2019, Dr. Richard Francis began to assist in teaching first through third year students. Meanwhile, Kenner and Stacey were called to serve in other areas of the ministry.

The year 2020 brought new challenges with the onslaught of the global pandemic and a period of economic, political and spiritual decline. With social distancing a priority, River Regions Theological College adapted to a virtual classroom platform known as WebEx.

Bering, Rev. James Toles, Rev. Renard Dabney, Lisa Castanel, Tyra Kenner and Shantrell Byrd worked with Bailey to help students succeed in the virtual format.

On January 20, 2021, Bering was inaugurated and installed as the new president for River Regions Theological College School in preparation to carry the college back to the classroom setting.

Throughout all the changes, the mission of River Regions Theological College remained the same: “sculpt the hearts of students of scripture by adjusting their posture of prayer in a Christian living transforming their thought process through Christian Theological Education, Biblical Studies and Practical Ministry Training encouraging spiritual growth.”

The River Regions Theological College is eight years long from start to finish. Bering said the school is unique because it teaches theology in a way that applies to the student’s life. The family unit is one of the primary focus areas.

“Theology is about God, and God is about family. When we get that right, then we learn how to serve externally. It has to happen first on the inside,” Bering said.