Eastern Mennonite Seminary students (from left) Nathan Grieser, Audrey Roth Kraybill, Tracy Brown, Anne Kaufman Weaver and Nelson Yoder celebrate the completion of their capstone presentations at the Lancaster site on April 17. All graduated during the May 2015 commencement ceremonies. (Photo by Laura Amstutz)

Seminary graduates’ capstone research projects reflect learning, act as practical resources for future ministry

On a Sunday afternoon about four years ago, Matthew Bucher was reading as diligently as any first-year graduate student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. When he was invited to a picnic by his future wife, he told her he wasn’t sure if he could make the time.

“Are you always working?” she asked him. At that point, his answer was “yes.”

Now, after graduating in May and beginning to work as a part-time pastor at Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Bucher knows the better answer: “No, I am not always working.”

Part of the reason he can now respond this way is his research for a capstone project titled “Residing in Menuha: Practices and Places for Sabbath Rest in Preparation for Ministry and Self-Care.” The project has helped him determine how to balance a part-time ministry position with other work and family obligations.

“As an Anabaptist Christian, I want to speak and act against economic systems that force many to work at harmful levels,” said Bucher, who also earned a master’s in conflict transformation from Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. “I want us all to celebrate and minister from the counter-cultural idea of Sabbath rest. Researching, investigating the Biblical text, conversing with pastors, and reflecting on my own Sabbath practices proved to be a rich experience. I hope these public and private practices will serve as a personal rhythm and rule for ministry and as a model for the congregation and the community.”

Each capstone presentation presented by members of this class of 2015 touched on both the personal formation experienced within the students’ seminary journey, and the transformation they hope to bring about as leaders in ministry. The capstone requirement helps seminarians synthesize and integrate into their unique ministry setting the four guiding curricular principles that have formed the rich foundation of their learning: wise interpretation, mature practice, discerning communication and transformational leadership.

“A culmination of their education, their capstone project is a reflection of their learning, a practical resource to carry with them into ministry, and often an exciting expression of creativity,” says seminary dean Michael A. King.

Capstone Presentations

The following graduates presented capstone presentations for the 2014-2015 academic year.

Priyanka Bagh (Pune, Maharashtra, India) narrated a personal experience of transformation and movement by the power of love through four seasons or stages. Bagh is a graduate of the University of Pune and has an MA from Shreemati Nathibia Damodar Thackersey. She will return to India to work with children and youth in the mental health field.

Tracy Brown (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) looked at the congregational capacity of “Working to Create Change Together.” In the light of recent unrest related to communities and policing, the research explored past and future work within Lancaster congregations to move towards justice and peace in the city. He plans to begin a doctorate in ministry degree at Lancaster Theological Seminary.

Gwendolyn B. Carr (Waynesboro, Virginia) explored “A Journey Toward Wholeness: Being Ushered Into the Presence of God with My Intellectually Disabled Friends and Family.” Her conclusions offered an understanding of the needs of persons with disabilities, promoting inclusive worship rather worship that is planned for or done to them. A member of Tinkling Springs Presbyterian Church, Carr plans to continue serving at Craigsville Presbyterian Church.

Seth Crissman ’09 (Harrisonburg, Virginia) is a frequent performer and worship leader at Eastside Church. The title of his project, exploring more private practice within the family and encounter with Scripture, was “Deep Love: Reflecting on God’s Love through the Eyes of a New Parent.” He will be working with Virginia Mennonite Missions to develop a kid’s club ministry.

Melissa Fretwell (Harrisonburg, Virginia) defined compassion out of her personal experience, training as a specialist in special education, and seminary preparation for ministry in her capstone project, “Are You With Me? Disabilities, Compassion and Community.” Fretwell is a graduate of Bridgewater College, and holds a MEd and EdS from University of Virginia. She will pursue a residency in chaplaincy at University of Virginia.

Lori Friesen (Harrisonburg, Virginia) traced the formative impact of the seminary experience, highlighting the importance and practice of reflection, vision and commitment to mission, and the authority and interpretation of the Bible. She is a member of Hartville Mennonite Church. She has a 2-year degree from Hesston College.

Pete Geoffrion (Harrisonburg, Virginia) presented “Our Lips and the LORD’s Word.” His capstone calls for holy conferencing across theological difference through gracious fidelity to Scripture, particularly in the United Methodist Church, engaging 1 Kings 2:1-3 as a case study. His bachelor’s degree is from James Madison University.

Nathan Grieser (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) looks at the ways in which privileged Mennonite churches in Lancaster are engaging people on the margins and asks whether these engagements are fostering mutual relationship and transformation. His project is titled “Mutual Missions? A Window Into Mennonite Engagement With the Margins.” Grieser is a graduate of Goshen College. He moves into a new role as executive director of The Shalom Project, a service-learning and intentional community for college graduates.

Lizzette Hernandez (Tegucigalpa, Honduras) researched multicultural Christian education, and challenged educators to develop as messengers who understand the different contexts in which faith develops and who transmit the good news in culturally appropriate ways. Hernandez, a retired physician, worships at Harrisonburg Mennonite Church and works with the Mennonite Hispanic Initiative.

Rosemary King ’65 (Harrisonburg, Virginia), in a presentation titled “Just The Right Size,” described the need for shelter as a matter of biblical justice and describes investigation into financial, legal, and architectural considerations as part of a local response. She will graduate in 2016.

Bradley Kolb ’09 (Harrisonburg, Virginia) proposed that the cultivation of imaginations that are captive to the Gospel and enchanted by the scriptures and the Spirit as key to Christian formation for adults in his presentation, “Think Again: How Imagination Leads to Transformation in Christian Worship.” Kolb begins as associate pastor at Grace Mennonite Fellowship this summer.

Audrey Roth Kraybill (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) explored biblical, theological and practical steps along the path for parents of GLBTQ children in their journey within and alongside the Christian community. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Goshen and an MA in religion from Lancaster Theological Seminary. She is a member of Community Mennonite Church in Lancaster.

Luis Martinez (Harrisonburg, Virginia) proposed that uncertainty gives opportunity to be enriched with excitement, perseverance, and wisdom as people of God, with illustrations from original artwork and chaos theory. Martinez is a pastor at Iglesia Discipular Anabaptista (IDA).

Bob May (Bergton, Virginia), who has worked as a UMC missionary, argued that responsible and sustainable missions development projects call for analysis of the context: who is already doing what, what opportunities and partnerships are evident, and what does this particular missions group offer for this context? May, who has a bachelor’s degree from University of Virginia and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, plans to continue further graduate studies in the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding’s program in conflict transformation.

Gordon Meriwether (Culpeper, Virginia) explored “The Spirit Untold, Touching the Face of God.” Pastor at The Greene Charge (UMC), Meriwether’s research dealt with dying, death and the afterlife with an emphasis on the pastor/chaplain’s ability to connect with the presence of Holy Spirit and the soul/spirit of the individuals involved in the journey. He also earned a MA in conflict transformation.

Nick Meyer ’08 (Kidron, Ohio) traced the struggle to forgive an impenitent offender, using the psalms of lament and a broader definition of hatred to mark turning points towards forgiveness in a project titled “Hatred or Forgiveness: Must We Choose?”  He is a member of Early Church and plans to volunteer as a prison chaplain.

Seth Miller ’07 (Harrisonburg, Virginia) presented research on “Engaging Confessional Theology in a Postmodern Context.” He is exploring pastoral ministry opportunities with the Mennonite Church.

Glenn W. Nofziger II ’02 (Stryker, Ohio) highlighted the role of effectively telling and listening to stories in enhancing self-understanding and providing pastoral care. His presentation was titled “Transformational Story-Sharing.” He is a member of Lockport Mennonite Church and is exploring pastoral ministry opportunities in the Mennonite Church.

Mike Souder (Mount Sidney, Virginia) described an ecclesiologically grounded plan for assimilating new members and caring for all members through a small group care structure in the large charismatic congregation. His presentation was titled “Care & Connection: A Vision for a Relevant (not recent) Church.” A graduate of Pennsylvania College of Technology, he is associate pastor at Grace Covenant Church.

Anne Kaufman Weaver ’88 (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) presented research on“Understanding Resiliency as Expressed by Credentialed Women in Lancaster Mennonite Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference.” Her project explored what factors and practices promote resiliency in female pastors as well as identifies the challenges and obstacles that exist in congregational and conference contexts. Weaver also has a master’s degree in social work from Marywood University.

Nelson Yoder ’81 (Narvon, Pennsylvania) examined four symbolic representations of Christian encounters with the Risen Christ from different time in church history and their application to congregational worship in a recent Easter season in his project, “Encountering Resurrection” He is associate pastor at Ridgeview Mennonite Church in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.

Editor’s note: Information about educational history and future plans was provided by graduates on a voluntary basis.