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UMO Holds Groundbreaking for Chapel Expansion


UMO Holds Groundbreaking for Chapel Expansion


MOUNT OLIVE – On Wednesday, May 24, the University of Mount Olive held a ground breaking ceremony for the expansion of Rodgers Chapel.  Due to the threat of rain, the evnet was held inside.  University President Dr. Philip P. Kerstetter welcomed guests and shared the building’s history. 

“Since 1974, Rodgers Chapel has been used for worship services, special performances, lectures, and certainly as a place for reflection and prayer,” Kerstetter stated. “Rodgers Chapel stands at the very heart of this beautiful campus, and its physical location was certainly not accidental, since faith is at the heart of our University mission.”

Kerstetter went on to note that in January 2013, the University, publically announced a $20 million Capital Campaign, entitled Realizing the Dream; Securing the Future.  The Campaign focused on six major projects, including the expansion and renovation of Rodgers Chapel.  Although the Campaign actually exceeded its $20 million goal, sufficient funds specifically for the Chapel were not raised, so the University extended the campaign. 

“I am delighted to announce that we have achieved our fundraising goal,” Kerstetter said.  “I wish to express my appreciation and gratitude to all of the individuals, congregations, and other groups who believed in this project, who worked hard to develop this project, and who made the financial commitments necessary to allow us to proceed with this project.  Together, all of you made it possible by realizing this dream.”

Board Chair Earl Worley said, “The role of the Board of Trustees is to keep the University’s mission ‘in trust.’  We are a Christian faith-based, values-centered institution; one that serves our students, our founding church, and our communities. Given all that is happening in the world around us, this certainly is the right project, at the right time, for all of the right reasons.”

More than 250 donors collectively contributed over $2 million to the Chapel expansion project with 83% of those donations from members of the Original Free Will Baptist denomination. 

The Reverend Ronnie Hobgood, President of the Original Free Will Baptist Convention, stated, “Original Free Will Baptists believe worship is the center of our spiritual walk with Christ. This belief continued with the vision of the University of Mount Olive. Rodgers Chapel was planned for the center of this campus. With this expansion, Rodgers Chapel will continue to be the heart of the campus for staff, faculty, and students, and a daily reminder that Christ and His Word are to be at the center of all our lives.”

Once completed, the 6,000 square feet Chapel expansion will form a pivotal campus landmark, enhancing student life while serving as a powerful symbol of the University of Mount Olive’s identity. New construction will add classrooms, faculty and staff offices, for the Department of Religion, including the Barrow Chair and the Campus Chaplain, and the Office of Church Relations. There will also be two classrooms, a seminar room, a multi-purpose room, and a small kitchen /coffee bar.  A prayer garden in the center of the new space will provide a place for mediation and reflection. 

Barrow Chair of Biblical Studies Dr. John Blackwell said, “A university education always involves academic preparation in the liberal arts for both the student’s vocation as well as the capacity for a lifetime of learning.  The University of Mount Olive takes the additional step of helping our students develop a robust faith in Christ that they can call their own.  The expansion of Rodgers Chapel into a religious life complex will help to forge our faith into action.”

Jean F. Ackiss, Director Emerita of Church Relations, delivered the closing prayer.

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Research Triangle Park, Washington, Jacksonville, and in Smithfield at Johnston Community College.  For more information, visit

Pictured are representatives from the University of Mount, the Original Free Will Baptist denomination, and major donors to the Rodgers Chapel expansion project (L-R):  UMO President Dr. Philip P. Kerstetter, Cole Baxley representing donor W. C. Martin and family, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Teresa Hines, Vice President of the Woman’s Auxiliary Convention of OFWB Dianne Riley-Gray, Donor Linda Lassiter, Donor Donnie Lassiter, Gary F. Barefoot representing donor Dr. E. Lee Glover, Director Emerita of Church Support Jean F. Ackiss, Barrow Chair of Biblical Studies Dr. John Blackwell, Campus Chaplain Carla Williamson, President of the Original Free Will Baptist Convention the Reverend Ronnie Hobgood, and UMO Board Chair Earl Worley.