Sarah Payne expresses the joy of completing her Master of Divinity degree at Eastern Mennonite Seminary during a hooding ceremony Saturday. She joined nine other graduates and three certificate recipients in the ceremony. (Photos by Andrew Strack)

Seminary graduates commissioned to ‘grow into God’s mission in a new time and place’

Thirteen graduates of Eastern Mennonite Seminary received blessings, degrees and certificates during Saturday’s seminary commencement. They were also accompanied by the observation, offered by associate dean Nancy Heisey, that “today marks the end of the world as you know it.”

Degree and certificate recipients of the class of 2017.

Heisey and seminary dean Michael King offered the commencement addresses in the absence, due to illness, of Fuller Seminary professor Dr. Erin Dufault-Hunter.

The end of late night studies and of commutes to and from Harrisonburg or Lancaster, Heisey said, also marks the beginning of “living with a new intensity the question of what this education is good for?”

Heisey gave several examples of those who “grow into God’s mission in a new time and place…drawn by God into frightening places before them, singing God’s praises…We go forth from here,” she said, “because we have been called to sing that great old and new hallelujah chorus in tunes and rhythms we don’t know among people who may not choose to join us.”

The salutation offered by graduates Sarah Payne and Andrea Yoder summarized the class of 2017 as “a group of Mennonites, of Methodists, and miscellaneous, in some ways, a collection of contradictions … yet an assembly of mature practitioners, discerning communicators, wise interpreters, and transformational leaders. We are fierce followers of Jesus, seekers of the Spirit, children of God.”

View photo albums of seminary baccalaureate and seminary commencement.

The class comprised those in study for three years to some who labored for eight years, each nurtured by faculty, peers, family, friends and church communities.

For Payne, pastor of Sherando United Methodist Church in Stuarts Draft, “the goal of seminary studies was to pursue wholeness, to learn good boundaries, and to learn ‘what is Christian hope,” she says. “The seminary experience has helped me find a measure of wholeness that can deal authentically with my story in the greater narrative of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.”

Stephen Wilcox leaves Lehman Chapel at the completion of Saturday’s seminary commencement ceremony.

Yoder, who serves as worship pastoring intern at Eastside Church in Harrisonburg, came to seminary “because I felt called,” she said. “I didn’t know when I began what the end-goal would be.  My goal in coming to seminary and pursuing a degree was simply obedience to the Holy Spirit.”

The experience, she says, “has been revelatory for me, allowing me to grow more and more fully into who God has created and called me to be. No matter what my vocation becomes after seminary, I will step into it with a far great awareness of who God is, who I am and the role that I’ve been called to play in God’s redeeming work in the world.”

King, giving his last address as seminary dean, offered a complementary address to that of Heisey, sharing the personal stories of two students giving of their gifts amid personal loss and wounds.

“This is why we need seminaries,” he concluded. “This is why we need the graduates, all with their own stories of abiding in Christ, heading into a world at the edge. I fear the future. I also dare hope students like these will raise the rafters of new homes—personal and institutional, academic and spiritual, economic and environmental, denominational and congregational, human and divine—for which in times like these we so yearn.”

Class of 2017

Master of Divinity degrees were conferred to the following graduates:

Dale T. Humphries, Waynesboro, Va.

Phil C. Kanagy, Harrisonburg, Va. (with recognition for excellence in practical theology);

Jacob R. Kave, Harrisonburg, Va.

Carlos H. Madrid, Grottoes, Va.

Julie D. Nitzsche, Stanardsville, Va.

Sarah E. Payne, Staunton, Va.

George F. Ryan, Round Hill, Va. (with recognition for excellence in theological studies);

Stephen K. Wilcox, Harrisonburg, Va. (with recognition for excellence in theological studies);

Andrea K. Yoder, Harrisonburg, Va. (with recognition for excellence in Biblical studies);

A Master of Arts in Religion degree was conferred to Audrey Ann Kanagy, of Lancaster, Pa., with recognition for excellence in historical and pastoral theology.

Certificates in Ministry Leadership were earned by Dwight Groff, Kinzers, Pa.; Hardaye Ramjit, Macedonia, Ohio; and Nancy Sims, Sugar Grove, W.Va.

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