The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College officially renamed its student center after  the Rev. Fred Luter Jr. at a ceremony on Wednesday (June 14). Luter is the pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

The dedication event included a live jazz band, food trucks, games, tours of the newly renovated student center and a ribbon cutting ceremony. Those in attendance included New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, City Councilman Oliver Thomas and members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus.

“It was an unbelievable moment,” Luter said after initially finding out about the name change during Easter service at Franklin  in 2022. “This doesn’t happen to people who are living. Most of the time they name something after you when you’ve died.” 

The NOBTS and Leavell College specializes in training missionary workers and religious leaders. 

A crowd gathers Wednesday, June 14, 2023 for the opening of the newly named Fred Luter Jr. Student Center on the campus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Credit: Lottie Joiner/Verite News

Luter is the first Black person to have his name on a building at one of the six Southern Baptist seminaries across the country, said Waylon Bailey, chairman of the NOBTS board of trustees, during the dedication ceremony. 

“This is a big day for NOBTS and Leavell College. Pastor Fred Luter is a spiritual giant in our city, worthy of the honor we give to him in the naming of this building,” NOBTS President Jamie Dew said in an email statement. “Pastor Fred has been faithful to preach the gospel, care for the hurting, and shepherd his people for over three decades. 

The college’s board of trustees approved a $12 million plan in April last year to renovate major buildings on its Gentilly campus such as student housing, the cafeteria and the student center. The Fred Luter Jr. Student Center’s renovations were funded by a $2 million anonymous gift. The donor asked the trustees to choose the name for the renovated building. Before the name change, the center was called the Hardin Student Center, named after an Alabaman family that donated money to the seminary in the 1980s, according to a spokesperson at NOBTS.

“He is the pastor of New Orleans, and we are proud to have him as part of our family,” Dew said.  

Rev. Fred Luter Jr., pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, greets an attendee of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Fred Luter Jr. Student Center at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Credit: Khalil Gillon/Verite News

During the dedication ceremony,  Dew also announced that the student study corner inside the Luter Center  will be named after Luter’s wife,  Elizabeth Luter, whom Luter  affectionately calls his “prime rib.” 

Luter began preaching in the Lower 9th Ward on the corner of Galvez Street and Caffin Avenue after he was severely injured in a motorcycle accident in 1977. He referred to the accident as his “Damascus Road experience,” and began preaching every Saturday thereafter. In 1983, Luter began preaching at Law Street Baptist Church. He would go on to preach at Greater Liberty Baptist before finding his congregational home at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, where he has been pastor since 1986.

When Luter took over Franklin Avenue, there were only 65 members. Before Hurricane Katrina, the church grew to more than 7,000 members. Luter credits this growth to his “FRANgelism” strategy. The strategy called for his congregation to reach out to friends, relatives, associates and neighbors and invite them to attend church and be a part of the community. Today Franklin Avenue has 4800 members.

“I’m a guy from the Lower 9th Ward, raised by a single mom of five kids,” Luter said. “Just to see this favor from God, I’m trying to wake up from this dream.”

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Khalil Gillon is a New Orleans native from Algiers. He attended Thomas Jefferson High School and is a graduate of Louisiana State University in political journalism. Passionate about politics, Gillon ran...