For only the sixth time in its 67-year history, Washington Bible College/Capital Bible Seminary has a new leader.
The Lanham college on Friday installed Larry Mercer, a career administrator and devoted Christian educator, as its next president. He replaced Homer Heater, who retired from the position in May 2004 to return to the classroom.
In taking the helm, Mercer becomes the first black person to lead the school and the first president with no previous connection to the school. Each of the previous presidents had either studied or taught at the college before being named the top administrator. Heater has been with the college for 50 years and was president for 11 years.
At a spirited inauguration ceremony at Riverdale Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, students and faculty welcomed Mercer, a father of four.
The ceremony featured national televangelist Tony Evans as the keynote speaker.
"We prayed for you before you got here," said Wayne Stinchcomb, president of the college's student government association, in his welcoming speech. "We stand behind you as you continue to lead the way."
Todd Beall, a professor at the school and a member of the 19-member search committee that picked Mercer, was equally welcoming.
"I've looked forward with great anticipation to leadership by Mercer," Beall said. "I was looking for godly character, someone humble with complete integrity that would inspire faculty, donors, staff and students."
Mercer, a North Carolina native, is optimistic about the big job ahead.
Before coming to Lanham, he served as a professor in the graduate program at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He was also the institute's senior vice president of media and church ministries. Before that, Mercer was executive director of Buckner Children and Family Services in North Texas. He has also served as associate pastor of Christian education at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas and has held lead administrator positions with youth correctional and social service agencies.
In accepting the position, Mercer said he feels a "a great sense of privilege and stewardship." One plan he said he has for the school is to take it from behind the mature trees and rolling hills where it sits quietly, almost anonymously, to the community and local churches where it can be a resource.
"Our location is not an accident," Mercer said of the college, which is a training ground for evangelical and conservative religious thought. "It gives us the platform to speak to issues of the day."
Mercer said he also wants to keep the focus of the school on spiritual growth and development of students and to capitalize on the school's proximity to the nation's capital by participating in debates on societal issues.