Eastern Mennonite Seminary graduates numbered 33 this year, with nine additional students earning certificates. (Photo by Lindsey Kolb)

Eastern Mennonite Seminary graduates 33 students, the largest class since 1988

When Gordon Meriwether first began attending Eastern Mennonite Seminary, he wanted to earn a master of divinity degree. Then the United Methodist pastor, who is also a 31-year U.S. Navy veteran, discovered the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). That inspired pursuit of another degree, and more miles to travel for Meriweather, who lives over the Blue Ridge Mountains in Culpepper, a 130-mile round-trip trek from Harrisonburg.

On Saturday, April 25, he made one final trip to campus for the seminary’s commencement ceremony to celebrate the earning of two degrees: a master of divinity and a master’s in conflict transformation.

In contrast, Seth Miller, also a new seminary graduate, simply walked up the hill from the Maplewood Residence Hall, where he is residence director for EMU undergraduate students. Miller came to the seminary after several years as a teacher at Lancaster Mennonite School and in public educational settings in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

And then there’s Kathryn Fenton, of Harrisonburg, who created seven mixed media paintings based on the principles of Mennonite faith to partially fulfill thesis requirements for a master’s degree in religion. And Misty Wintsch, a Church of the Brethren pastor from Pennsylvania, whose ministry specialization project for her master‘s degree in church leadership included studying about and performing funerals for the “unchurched.”

These are a fraction of the various stories that could be shared about this year’s graduating class of 33, the largest since 1988.

“There is sorrow in letting go of such a large and gifted class of graduates,” said Michael A. King, vice president and seminary dean. “Yet the very qualities that make it hard to see them go underscore the great gifts of ministry, leadership, and authentic relating they’re primed to share with the world.”

Twenty-five students received master of divinity degrees, with five of these also receiving dual master’s degrees in conflict transformation or counseling. Four students received a master‘s degree in church leadership and four students received a master‘s degree in religion.

Dr. L. Gregory Jones, of Duke Divinity School, gives the commencement address. (Photo by Jon Styer)
Dr. L. Gregory Jones, of Duke Divinity School, gives the commencement address. (Photo by Jon Styer)

Additionally, nine students received certificates in ministry leadership.

Religious backgrounds and affiliations varied, including Mennonite, United Methodist, Church of the Brethren, Presbyterian, and non-denominational. The class includes students from India, Honduras, and Chile.

“It is challenging to do what you are going forth to do,” said L. Gregory Jones, PhD, professor of theology and Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School. His commencement address, “For Such a Time as This,” was based around the Biblical book of Esther and suggested that perhaps these graduates were prepared for just this moment in the church.

“God raises up people like you in order to do things you would never have done,” he said. Jones encouraged graduates to practice fasting and spiritual disciplines, hospitality and peacemaking – practices that will provide spiritual sustenance in challenging times.

“We have a responsibility to God who calls us to become what we are not yet,” said Lizzette Hernandez, class president, speaking to the ongoing journey that continues after commencement. “We respond to God so that we can minister, not to the church that is, but to the church that will be.”

Discussion on “Eastern Mennonite Seminary graduates 33 students, the largest class since 1988

  1. Glad to be joining the new cohort this summer, and looking forward to trying to fill Gordon’s shoes!

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