Michael King, vice president of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, addresses students, faculty and staff at convocation on Tuesday, Aug. 30. King, recently named vice president of EMU's graduate and professional schools as well, reflected on faith amid life changes, losses and traumas. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

With the ageless theme of finding hope in times of fear, seminary convocation opens new academic year

With natural and man-made disasters on the collective minds of many students and faculty, Eastern Mennonite Seminary dean Michael King provided some assurance in his opening convocation address.

“Will we survive?” asked King. “I believe yes. Here we are despite millennia of catastrophes. But will our lives, communities, institutions, structures, countries, planet be recognizable?”

King’s convocation address, titled “After the boxes are packed,” encouraged listeners to think about the signs of hope found in the midst of fear. Drawn from the third chapter of Lamentations, King noted that both fear and hope are found in our landscape today, just as for the writer in Lamentations.

Reflecting on the death of his mother-in-law this summer and his own parents’ death in 2010, King discussed the boxes left behind by these elders and the ways that small gestures brought hope in the midst of the grief he experienced.

King asked, “Knowing others will someday be left with nothing but our boxes, which fragments of ‘the Lord as our portion’ do we hope they find there?”

For faculty, staff and some students, this convocation highlights the 2016-17 school year as one of many transitions. This year King will be combining his role as seminary dean with a new role as dean of graduate and professional programs. Professor Nancy Heisey has begun as associate dean, replacing Professor Lonnie Yoder, who held the role for six years. [Read more about this administrative transition.]

Denominational fluctuations have caused seminary enrollment to fall to a national low and EMS is not immune to these changes, King said.

And yet, he added, there are signs of hope. This year’s incoming class includes pastors, counselors, educators and many others seeking to follow God’s call to seminary and ministry in various contexts.

For example, Pablo Hernandez, from Honduras, is resuming studies at EMS after five years away. Hernandez needed to return to his home country after his first year to attend to family members with health issues. He has finally returned to complete his degree, bringing his family with him.

“Pablo’s return to EMS to study is just one of the many signs of hope I see in our students,” said Les Horning, associate director of admissions, development and church relations. “Other students have moved across the country, entered a career in retirement, or simply took the next important step in God’s call.”

Convocation concluded with faculty, staff, new and returning students reflecting on the question: “If ‘you can’t take it with you’, if our labors of love eventually wither away, in what do we place our hope?”