By 1920, the concept of “Baptist Student Union” was taking root within students’ hearts throughout the Southeast. The Southern Baptist Convention voted to create an Interboard Commission to coordinate a student work program in 1921, and Dr. Frank Leavell began serving as the first Executive Secretary of BSU from an office in Memphis, TN on January 1, 1922. He had served as the Secretary of the Baptist Young People’s Union (BYPU) in Georgia until this point, but recognized the need for a more student-led movement on college campuses.
He was a man of great charisma and decisive action, and would ultimately visit Williamsburg, VA more than once to encourage BSU at the College of William & Mary and other universities in the mid-Atlantic region.
From the beginning BSU could be described with four core values: Christ-centered, Bible-based, church-related, and student-led. Being student-led has been what has captured the hearts of college students throughout history. In the 1920’s, Williamsburg Baptist Church (WBC) had an active BYPU for college-aged adults, a group to study discipleship “courses, make visits, distribute tracts, hold prayer services, and train church members for Christian service.”1 However, it was largely adult-led, and church-based. It was effective, but to reach more students for Christ on a university campus, a different organization would be necessary.
In 1925 WBC was anticipating an ad- dition to their building “because the State Mission Board had committed $3,000 a year for five years to enlarge the Sunday School to encourage the work with students at the College of William and Mary. In 1926 the commitment was increased to $6,000 a year for five years or a total of $30,000.”2 However, the congregation could hardly afford the basic renovations necessary to its existing buildings beside the Powder Magazine on Duke of Gloucester Street. The church would soon engross herself in the arduous process of negotiating with Colonial Williamsburg for building and relocating to its current Richmond Road location in the years 1928 to 1934.
It is into this environment that a Baptist student, Thomas Hervie Christie, arrived as a freshman in the Fall of 1925 to the College of William & Mary. He would become active at Williamsburg Baptist Church. After attending a national conference for Baptist college students in Oct. 28-31, 1926 in Birmingham, AL, he returned to campus and began working to establish the Baptist Student Union at the College. The Flat Hat printed an article in November about his report about the conference to a joint meeting of Baptist students from Williamsburg Baptist and its BYPU.
Christie was clearly visionary, but must have been charismatic and influential himself, organizing a Virginia-Maryland Conference of Baptist students only one year later on Oct. 28-30, 1927. The Friday and Saturday events were held in the recently built (in 1926) Phi Beta Kappa Hall (now Ewell Hall), while the Sunday gatherings happened at Williamsburg Baptist Church. The first ever VA state gathering had been held at the University of Richmond in 1924. At this 1927 gathering in Williamsburg, fifteen colleges from Virginia and Maryland were represented. Frank Leavell himself, and Arthur Stovall, who had become the VA Student Secretary in 1925 and based at UVA in Charlottesville, were listed among the speakers for the event. These two men would return again to Williamsburg in 1929 and give the Baptist students “a sound shaking.”3
Christie graduated in 1929. From a BSU newsletter that Spring, he had been president of BSU for 3 years. It seemed to be a fledgling organization during the 1930’s, with the Depression and impending war serving as context. The Colonial Echo, the College’s yearbook, made few references to BSU until 1942, when annual yearend summaries of BSU began. The last two years of World War II would make the College seem like a woman’s col- lege, but BSU had begun with a firm foundation. From the very beginning, it was established upon the four core values, with student leadership being crucial from the very beginning.
1. From Minutes of the 21 annual meeting of the PBA, July 29-31, 1924. ↩
2. From “History of Williamsburg Baptist Church 1828-1978,” pg. 233.↩
3. From “Indian Messenger”, BSU Newsletter, College of William & Mary, May 1929. Vol. 1. Num. 1↩