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July 25, 2023

Happy 200th Birthday, B.T.!

BT Roberts looks to the distance and wears a birthday hat

July 25, 2023, marks the 200th birthday of Chili Seminary founder, the Rev. Benjamin Titus (B.T.) Roberts (July 25, 1823 - February 27, 1893). Roberts was a visionary minister, academic, activist, and administrator who advocated for simplicity, generosity, and Christian mission. The life of B.T. and the many things he and his wife, Ellen, accomplished will be celebrated on campus and at the Free Methodist General Conference this week in Orlando, Florida.

Here are just a few facts about our founder:

  • He founded the Free Methodist Church in 1860.

  • He was first trained as an attorney, then entered the ministry.

  • He was a staunch abolitionist and early Free Methodists derived their name in part from their opposition to slavery. Many of the early Free Methodists were active in the operation of the Underground Railroad. 

  • B.T. and Ellen had seven children.

“Within a few days of the start of a new academic year, I take my freshman students on a pilgrimage to the North Chili Rural Cemetery, located a short walk from campus. I want them at the outset of their Roberts’ experience to stand with me around the large granite headstone marking the grave of our university’s founder. These words in Roberts’ epitaph — ‘He ever faithfully preached the truth and loyalty did his duty’ — provide an opportunity to talk about life, death, and how a Christian liberal arts education equips one to live well. It is always a rich time, one that I hope is memorable for students.” 

— Walter “Pastor Wally” Fleming ’18 (D.Min., Northeastern Seminary) Adjunct for Ministry and First-Year Seminar.

Pastor Wally Headshot

“B.T. Roberts was a visionary Christian whose passions intersected with the social impetus of Rochester in interesting ways. Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, social pioneers central to the history of Rochester and contemporaries with Roberts, paved the way for abolition, racial equality, and women's rights in America. Beginning from a biblical perspective Roberts arrived at many similar conclusions. He passionately argued for abolition and the ordination of women in his lifetime. In the Global Honors Program we carefully study Roberts's writing on these topics and consider current events that line up with these issues: for example, human trafficking and the state of women's equality in America. It may be 200 years since B.T.'s birth, but he continues to speak to the next generation.”

—Jeffrey McPherson, Ph.D., Professor of Christian Theology, Director of the Honors Program

Dr. McPherson headshot.

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