MACON — William D. Underwood, Mercer University's 18th president, will bring the Mercer message to the pulpit of one of the state's oldest Baptist churches when he speaks at the Historic Richland Church in Twiggs County at 12 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 1. The event marks the 195th anniversary of the venerable church, one of the oldest Baptist churches in the state. It also continues the long connection between the Church and the University, which began when Mercer founder Jesse Mercer was elected moderator of the Georgia Baptist Convention during a meeting there in 1839.
The event will feature an ecumenical service and a traditional "dinner on the ground," for which attendees are asked to bring a covered dish for the number in their party. Iced tea, utensils, plates and napkins will be provided.
The Church is now a designated historic site, and though it is no longer used regularly as a house of worship, it hosts an annual "homecoming" for the Richland Restoration League. The League began in 1948 in an effort to save the building. The efforts have been a success, and The League continues through the work of descendants of church members, League members and the Twiggs County community.
The event is held each year on the first Sunday in October, in honor of the church's founding and is sponsored by the Richland Restoration League Trustees. The church, which was founded in 1811, has had a longstanding relationship with the University, which was founded in 1833. The church membership included several Mercer trustees and numerous graduates, and several of the church's pastors were educated at Mercer. Just before the 1839 Georgia Baptist Convention, which was held at Richland, Mercer was elevated to the rank of University. The University's first Board of Trustees made its first annual report at Richland.
Underwood began his tenure as Mercer's 18th president on July 1, 2006. Prior to his appointment, he served at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, as interim president and held the prestigious Leon Jaworski Chair at the Baylor School of Law, having joined the law faculty in 1990 after practicing law with a large firm in Dallas. In 1997-98, Underwood took a leave of absence from the faculty of the Law School to serve as Baylor's general counsel.
An accomplished educator and scholar, Underwood was designated a Master Teacher at Baylor in recognition of his extraordinary classroom teaching and was named an Outstanding University Professor in 2005. He is an elected member of the American Law Institute and the American Bar Foundation. He has published extensively on a range of topics and has presented a number of papers on how faith relates to higher education, especially at universities that share the historical and theological commitment of Baptists to intellectual and religious freedom and respect for religious diversity.
Underwood is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law, which awarded him the Juris Doctor degree. He graduated as class salutatorian and was an editor of the University of Illinois Law Review. Following graduation, he clerked for the Honorable Sam D. Johnson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He also holds a degree from Oklahoma Baptist University, where he met his spouse, Lesli. They have two teenage children, Jessica and William.
About Mercer University:
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education, the University has 7,300 students; 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies; major campuses in Macon and Atlanta; four regional academic centers across the state; a university press; teaching hospitals in Macon and Savannah; an educational partnership with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta; an engineering research center in Warner Robins; a performing arts center in Macon; and a NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit www.mercer.edu.
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