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West Virginia entrepreneur invests in professorship in Bible

Sep 01, 2008

By Michelle E. Melton

Gilbert, W.Va. – James H. “Buck” Harless, a businessman from Gilbert, W.Va., has given $750,000 toward an endowed professorship in biblical interpretation at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Harless’ gift is in direct response to the Seminary’s 2006-2010 Strategic Plan. This new chair will enable the Seminary to continue to attract and maintain a superior faculty for preparing biblically articulate, theologically insightful, and imaginative leaders for the church and society.

“The celebration of our heritage – Reformed, ecumenical, and relevant – resides in the strength of our teaching of Scripture and equipping of students to be biblical interpreters. Mr. Harless’ gift enables us to multiply the exceptional preparation of our students in biblical languages, biblical introduction, exegesis, and a wide range of specialized study of scripture. Moreover, with an additional professor of Bible on the faculty, we will be able to offer such instruction with improved flexibility, providing our students more options toward completing their studies,” said Dean K. Thompson, President of Louisville Seminary, and former pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Charleston, W.Va.

Harless and a committee of West Virginia church, business, and philanthropic leaders are hoping that his three-quarters-of-a-million-dollar gift will lead others in joining them in the support of theological education and educated clergy by endowing a professorship in the amount of $2 million.

The campaign committee is being led by Robert O. Orders Jr.; Thomas E. Potter; and L. Newton Thomas Jr., all of Charleston, W.Va. Mr. Orders is a member of the Louisville Seminary Board of Trustees.

Education is very important to Harless. Raised by his maternal aunt and uncle, who modeled for him the importance of caring for others less fortunate, Harless has helped deserving individuals achieve in higher education. He has shared his time and finances toward numerous projects at colleges and universities across the State of West Virginia. Likewise, he has considered it an honor to support his church, ministries that help young people, and the ongoing preparation of men and women for ministry.

Harless became a member of Gilbert Presbyterian Church as an adult and has spent more than 50 years modeling for others the life of a faithful steward – encouraging others toward more meaningful relationships with God; serving as an elder and as Moderator of Greenbrier Presbytery; directing its Mission Development Fund; and sharing abundantly from his resources. Through his stewardship, he has helped countless people in West Virginia, and at Louisville Seminary.

In the 1980s, Harless helped establish the William A. Benfield Professorship in Evangelism and Global Mission at Louisville Seminary, named for his close friend, a Louisville Seminary alum and employee, who served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Charleston from 1963 to 1979. Then, convinced of the need for effective ministry to families, he supported a project for strengthening family ministries in congregations. In 2003, he joined several contributors in challenging others in their annual stewardship and in the belief that a quality education, environment, faculty, and student aid will help equip men and women for quality ministry and leadership. Since 1988, Harless has invested more than $2.3 million in theological education at Louisville Seminary.

In recognition of nearly 20 years of personal investment in Louisville Seminary and his partnership in the preparation of outstanding leaders for the Church, Louisville Seminary recognized James “Buck” Harless with its first Faithful Steward Award in 2003 as part of the Seminary’s 150th anniversary celebration. By leading the way in funding a new professorship, he is continuing to challenge others in their own faithful stewardship.

Students at Louisville Seminary study with world class faculty who are distinguished in academic fields vital to training leadership for the church, with credentials from some of the world’s leading theological institutions, including Duke, Emory, the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), Harvard University Divinity School, Yale, Vanderbilt, Union Theological Seminary (New York), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The faculty is presently comprised of 21 fulltime professors, half of whom are women. While the majority of the faculty members are Presbyterian, United Methodist, American Baptist, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Lutheran, and Reformed Churches are also represented.

During the past 156 years, Louisville Seminary has welcomed many students who have come from West Virginia. Currently, there are 2,182 active alums serving in a variety of ministry placements across the United States and around the world. Thirty-one alums are serving in the State of West Virginia.

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