“This is a beginning disguised as an ending,” Jon Swartz told his classmates at Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s baccalaureate worship service. Swartz and 16 others received degrees and certificates on April 26, 2014.
These graduates have big plans for ministry. Some expect to be pastors in the United Methodist Church. Some expect to be chaplains or work in pastoral counseling settings. Some are planning for church planting or ministry combined with work in another field. Others are still waiting to see where God calls. The 11 graduates and 6 certificate students are United Methodist, Mennonite, Episcopalian, and “none of the above.”
The diversity of their calls to ministry can be seen in the capstone presentations of the 10 master of divinity graduates. The topics ranged from “Jesus Deconstructor: Lord of Parable, God of Madness, King of Graffiti” by Brittany Conley, who is now leading a small church plant in Staunton, Virginia, to “The Medical Model and Its Creation of Unnecessary Suffering: Pastoral Responses for Chaplaincy and Beyond” by Melanie Lewis, a chaplain at the Winchester (Va.) Medical Center.
The capstone presentations were part of the final coursework for Formation in Missional Leadership, a required course for all MDiv students. Other topics included: finding hope in the midst of conflict; how to perform Christian funerals; and how the shepherd metaphor is dangerous to church leaders. Each student chooses a topic that he or she thinks will be relevant to ministry in the future.
In these projects students have already begun the work that Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, the seminary commencement speaker, encouraged them to do.
“You are asking how to be church differently,” Soto Albrecht said. “Examine the container that we call church and examine what we put in the container. Sometimes the church becomes a holy bubble that no one can touch. Sometimes we need to burst that bubble.”
Soto Albrecht is the first Hispanic woman to be moderator of Mennonite Church USA. She is also coordinator of field education at Lancaster (Pa.) Theological Seminary.
“Like trees in a forest, the roots of all our denominations are interconnected. We are not individuals doing our own thing. “The church is in the middle of major changes. Lift up your prophetic voices, but always stay within the church, because once you are outside you can’t change it. Be the change you wish to see.”
Class president Clayton Payne spoke of students’ unexpected changes during their seminary journeys and noted that this would undoubtedly continue: “We need to water our souls with the transformational narrative of Jesus.”
Ten students received master of divinity degrees this year. One student received a master of arts in church leadership degree, and six students received certificates in ministry studies. This was a small class by recent standards, but vice-president and seminary dean Michael King noted that class sizes typically vary year to year and the graduating class of 2015 is expected to be larger than usual.
More from commencement weekend:
EMU’s commencement ceremony (video)
Cords of Distinction ceremony (podcast)
Seminary commencement ceremony (podcast)
“Seminary Students Celebrate Graduation at Eastern Mennonite Seminary” – WHSV/TV3 (video)
Nurses’ pinning ceremony (podcast)
Seminary Baccalaureate (podcast)