By Tommi O. Peters
For The Tribune
Attaining the title of “Graduate” represents determination, perseverance, and sacrifice for all who earn it. As the first students to matriculate from the Trussville Teaching Site of Grace School of Theology, the achievement carries an extra bit of honor for Grayson Valley resident Thad Blount and Hewitt alum Darrell Moncus.
Graduation ceremonies were held May 19th at the seminary’s global headquarters in Houston where Blount received a Master of Ministry while Moncus earned Master of Divinity.
“Being at graduation was really cool because there were people from all over the world. And it was special to be the first ones from an Alabama site,” reflected Moncus.
Grace is fully accredited nationally and internationally by Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) and the Association of Theological School (ATS). Several academic programs are available, ranging from a Biblical Studies Certificate (BSC) to Doctor of Ministry (DMin).
Where more traditional schools offer courses that are either online or in person, Grace utilizes a video conferencing model that allows students to choose from day to day what works best for their schedule. A recording of instruction is also available for later viewing should a student not be able to attend class as scheduled.
Margaret resident Kristi Russell is a full time pharmaceutical compounding technician, proprietor of a small business, and is working toward her Bachelor’s degree at Grace. “I try to watch my classes live if possible because you can ask questions. It’s just like being in the classroom. You can see the other students and interact with one another.”
Russell shared that her six-year-old would occasionally make cameos onscreen during class. When this occurred, Russell’s professor would say hello and interact with her son.
“It meant a lot to me that he realized that the class wasn’t the only thing going on in my life and that I’m also a mom,” recalled Russell.
“The reach of Grace is global and they’re using technology to bring the seminary to you so you don’t have to uproot your family or put your life on hold,” said Moncus.
With 14 physical locations worldwide and an option for real time participation through live stream, 37 countries are represented in the student population as well as a multitude of denominations.
“Having different perspectives to draw from challenged how I see certain issues. It prompted me to consider how I would present an issue to a different culture,” offered Blount.
Russell echoed this by saying, “I’ve been in a couple classes with people from different denominations that have some different thoughts than I do. With Grace, they don’t tell people how to think. If a student believes differently, their voice can be heard as long as they’re able to back up their perspective with scripture.”
In addition to flexible accessibility to instruction, Grace also aims to make study affordable.
At all locations, donors offset approximately 90% of tuition cost. The seminary’s pricing structure is also tailored to the financial climate local to each teaching site. For example, tuition in Trussville for undergraduate and graduate courses is approximately $150 per credit hour while the cost in the Philippines can drop as low as $15 per credit hour.
VP of Student Services Dr. Mark “Dean” Haywood attributes the affordability to the school’s Founder and President Dr. Dave Anderson.
“When starting the school in 2002, [Anderson] felt the Lord guiding him to start Grace when he noticed the rising cost of Christian education, especially at seminaries. He believed the Lord would provide wealthy people to invest in the school’s vision. The Lord is still providing today,” explained Haywood.
Similarly, Trussville businessman David Nichols assessed a deficit of options for Alabamians to study God’s word. Introduced through mutual friends, Nichols partnered with Pinson resident Robbie Roberts to find a solution. The two quickly identified the mission and vision of Grace as synonymous with what Nichols hoped to achieve.
Roberts now serves as Director of Student Services for the Trussville teaching site.
“Potential students who may not be familiar with Grace and the concept of online higher education find it reassuring that they can visit our site,” explained Roberts.
“This teaching site has the potential to have a huge impact on this area and to change the lives of countless people that are seeking a better knowledge of the Bible,” said Nichols.
“Grace School of Theology is the most exciting thing and greatest blessing that we could be a part of.”
Haywood reiterated the sentiment by saying, “It hasn’t been all Grace trying to come and do their thing. It’s been a beautiful budding relationship between headquarters and the local constituents.”
“We brought Dave Nichols onto the board of trustees. He has a seat at the table at the highest level and is able to uniquely address any idiosyncrasies that could be tailored to meet the needs of Alabamian students.”
The partnership with the Trussville site is serving as a conduit for contacts at potential future locations throughout Alabama and possibly Atlanta.
Haywood recently visited Alabama to check on the progress of their initiative to open a site in Montgomery.
“The local individuals getting involved have already made a commitment to invest in the students in the Montgomery area. That’s how much they want Grace to be in the Montgomery community. One pastor has even stepped forward and offered to underwrite the cost for any students that come out of his church,” reported Haywood.
“I wish I could adequately describe how I feel about all that’s taking place. The best I can do is say that it’s a God thing because it’s way above my pay grade.”
Open enrollment for fall classes is currently underway. For more information, visit the Trussville Teaching Site behind Applebee’s at 4735 Norrell Drive or gsot.edu/Alabama.