JACKSONVILLE (BP)—Southern Baptist seminaries around the country celebrated commencements in December that included a number of graduates with Florida ties, according to information submitted by those schools.
Although commencements at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary are joyous events, both for the new graduates and faculty and administration who helped them along the way, the Dec. 15 ceremony for NOBTS and its Leavell College took on a solemn yet resolved tone in light of the previous day’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn.
New Orleans Seminary President Chuck Kelley, greeting a class of 91 graduate, 64 undergraduate and 30 doctoral students, said, “What a wonderful, glorious day it is. But not everywhere.
“Our nation is reeling in shock from another tragic, senseless shooting and the loss of so many innocent lives,” he said, referencing the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Tragedy and uncertainty also stretch overseas, Kelley said. People face the realities of war, and financial struggles abound, in “a world with problems that seem to be beyond solving, a world with so many reasons to be worried and have fear,” Kelley said.
It’s in that kind of world, he said, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is most powerful.
“What a wonderful, glorious day it is to be in that kind of world with this kind of Gospel,” Kelley said. “To know that we have, through Jesus Christ our Lord, something that cannot be had in so many corners of our nation and so many corners of the world: reason to believe the best is yet to come; reason to know with certainty in the heart that there are solutions. And more than that, [to know] there are transforming changes that can take place in any human life.”
Kelley said it was because the graduates had personally experienced that transformation through Jesus that they have committed themselves to spreading the Gospel around the world and in the midst of tragedy.
“It is precisely because we live in a world where on the same day there is this much joy and this much sadness and sorrow that we have the greatest job in the whole world,” Kelley said.
It was that message of peace, Kelley said, that helped steady the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow amid a string of personal tragedies.
Kelley told how Longfellow, who lived from 1807 to 1882, lost his first wife to illness. Years later he remarried, and he and his wife had six children. After sustaining burns from a fire in their home, Longfellow’s second wife, Fanny Appleton, died in 1861.
Not long after, the Civil War broke out and Longfellow’s oldest son went to fight in the war and was seriously wounded, Kelley said.
“As he was going day after day to care for his son, he’d pass other soldiers who were wounded,” Kelley said. “His heart was filled with such rage and such anger. In a world like this, where in the world is good news? Where in the world is God?”
Those same emotions and questions are timely today, following natural disasters, wars and tragedies like the one in Newtown, Kelley said. And it was in that context that, on Dec. 25, 1863, Longfellow wrote the poem “Christmas Bells,” which Kelley read aloud.
The final two stanzas read:
And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on the earth, good-will to men.”
“Graduates, this is what you must carry forth from this place,” Kelley said. “As you leave, you will go to places big and small. Do not follow your preference. Follow God’s call … in the power of this Gospel that’s been changing lives through the ages, that started so long ago on a shepherd’s hillside with angels singing, in a forgotten part of the world, to unimportant men [who were told] there was indeed the possibility now of peace on earth.”
Kelley concluded with the challenge to graduates: “Go in the knowledge that, because Jesus was born, because He died on the cross, because He rose from the grave in the power of life over death, we have already triumphed. We’re just waiting for the victory parade.”
Graduating with the Doctor of Ministry degree were A. Ray Campbell, Daytona Beach; and Troy Dixon, Jacksonville; and with the Doctor of Educational Ministry degree, Steve Morris, Plant City.
Graduating with the Master of Divinity degree were Stephen McAliley Jr., Riviera Beach; Mike Park, Quincy; and Jesse Pearson, Lakeland; and with the Master of Arts in Christian Education degree, Jennifer McCombs, Jacksonville; and Christopher Reeser, Pensacola.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary commissioned a new class of graduates, including two of its own professors, by awarding degrees to 197 students Dec. 14—13 undergraduate degrees, 156 master’s degrees and 32 doctoral degrees.
Terri Stovall, dean of women’s programs and associate professor of women’s ministries, walked across the stage to receive her master of divinity degree.
Already having earned her Ph.D. and master of arts in Christian education from Southwestern more than a decade ago,
Stovall completed work in the M.Div. program to enhance her work in training women for service in local churches, ministries and mission fields around the world.
Don Wyrtzen, professor of church music, received his doctor of ministry in the school of theology. Wyrtzen, whose father founded Word of Life International, serves as chapel pianist at the seminary in addition to his teaching duties. He is a Dove Award-winning musician known for his 400-plus musical compositions and arrangements.
Another highlight of the commencement included the conferral of 32 doctoral degrees, which SWBTS President Paige Patterson said were the most he has ever personally witnessed during a graduation ceremony. The degrees not only represented Southwestern’s ongoing contribution to biblical scholarship but also the growing impact of Southwestern around the world.
Yaroslav Pyzh, president of Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary, earned his Ph.D. in systematic theology, with a dissertation on Baptists in the Soviet Union. Additionally, Ralf Schowalter, a pastor in Rhaunen, Germany, earned his Ph.D. in Baptist and free church studies for his work on the German Anabaptist Hans Denck.
Patterson, preaching from Luke 1:5-25, challenged the graduates to submit themselves to the Lord as they go out into ministry. Pointing to Zechariah’s encounter with the angel Gabriel, Patterson said people knew he had heard from God.
“Young people, do you know your [congregation] will know when you’ve been with God and when you haven’t?” Patterson asked the graduates. “They will know whether or not you’re just a professional carrying out your assignment or whether or not you have been with God.”
Patterson also emphasized the primary importance of the Lord’s activity in a person’s ministry, referring to Luke 1:66 where it was said of John the Baptist that “the hand of the Lord was upon him.”
“May that be said of you,” Patterson said. “May it not be said that ‘He built a big church,’ ‘He became famous on the mission field’ or any of those other things, except as an afterthought to this one statement: ‘The hand of the Lord was upon him.’ If it is said of you that the hand of the Lord was upon you, then you will have done all of what God has called you to do and be in the days ahead.
“Just like John the Baptist was the one to announce the incarnation of our Lord, so your assignment is to announce the return of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Patterson told the graduates. “Make no mistake about it. That’s an assignment that is not a popular one today.... I challenge you to go forth in the spirit and the power of the Lord.”
The graduation ceremony can be viewed at www.swbts.edu/index.cfm.
Graduating with the Doctor of Educational Ministry degree was Myra Tisdel Campbell of Jacksonville.
Graduating with the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Counseling and the Master of Arts in Christian Education degrees was Heather Renee Powell, New Smyrna Beach; and with the Master of Arts in Christian Education degree, Jeffrey S. Morris, Plant City.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary commencement exercises were Dec. 14 according to the school’s website. A video has been posted online of the commencement on the school’s website at http://apps.sebts.edu/multimedia/?p=3756. A description of the video reads: “During his final charge to graduates, Akin reminds us that because Jesus came, we must go.”
Graduating with the Doctor of Ministry degree was Charles Wyatt Boyd, Lakeland.
Graduating with a Master of Theology degree was Shane Michael Kraeger, Saint Cloud; a Master of Divinity with North American Church Planting, Jeffrey Boe Ellis, Tampa; a Master of Divinity with Christian Ministry, Jordan Barry, West Palm Beach; and Brent P. Gay, Lakeland; a Master of Arts in Christian Education and Biblical Counseling, Stuart Scott Shumway, Stuart; a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling, Panama City; and a Master of Arts in Christian Studies, Brian Christopher Harre, Tampa; Jared Richard Knight, Hilliard; and Albert G. Rodriguez, Miami.
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