The following is the student address, given at the 2013 ABSW Commencement by Master of Divinity graduate Loretta Dickerson-Smith, who also received the Claiborne M. Hill Award for highest academic standing for an M.Div. Student.
President Martin, Trustees, esteemed Faculty members, family, friends and the graduates of 2013, today is a day to be thankful and to be inspired. Before we begin celebrating, I would like my fellow graduates to give special accolades to President Paul Martin, Dean LeAnn Snow Flesher and the Chairman of the Trustee Board. Now, my question I must pose to each of them is a simple one: Have each of you signed our diplomas? Are you sure?…..you see, none of the graduates want to start celebrating too quickly.
All humor aside…today is a day of thanksgiving and to be inspired. Each graduate has completed the requirements for the degree which began after receiving our letters of acceptance to be a part of the ABSW community. We came in response to God’s call to service; a call not solely for the students but one which includes the faculty and staff. The faculty and staff would be teachers that would shepherd us in this process of discovery as we learned the meaning of servant-leadership.
As I reflected on the journey, we spent time understanding our beliefs and doctrine in our Introduction to Theology course. We examined the work of the classic theologians such as Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as contemporary ones like James Cone or Mary Rutherford. I am sure you remember the assigned reading from Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth. It was an all consuming task to understand what Mr. Barth was trying to say. You definitely read it more than once and to be able to clearly articulate pneumatology or the role of the Holy Spirit for the final exam. How was that first exam…as we started to construct our own theology, if was interesting to see if our beliefs mirrored these theologians or even our classmates.
The discussions that took place in the classroom, the hallways, and the library or outside as we left to return home covered so many topics. For example, do you remember the instruction, “Turn to Genesis 1 & 2”? “How many creation stories are in the Old Testament?” or “What is the proper exegesis of Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians Church which says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you to the Lord.” This passage goes on to say “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church as gave himself up for her..” Our instructors impressed the importance of interpreting the text based on the context and then to provide a contemporary relevance for the church of today. Accurate interpretation of the Old and New Testament also required a familiarity with Hebrew and Greek and therefore we enrolled in UBL: Understanding Biblical Languages. I will never look at the definitions of various words in the same way. One must always look at the semantic range and thing look at the context that we find the words.
Middler year continued to stretch as we worked as interns in a specific faith based ministry. We were exposed to leading special worship services like marriages and funerals, sermon preparation, and writing exegetical papers. We were able to exhale as we completed those internships, self-reflections and project papers. Perhaps we were in need of self-care and found the many courses in pastoral counseling helpful. Of course, those desiring to go into the preaching ministry benefited from evaluating the public ministry of Jesus and were ncouraged to view the text from a womanist perspective.
Furthermore, we constructed our individual credos which are our personal statement of our beliefs and faith while being intentional about worship and setting aside a time of Sabbath to refresh our minds, bodies and spirits while meditating on God’s goodness. My question to the graduating class is whether today marks the culmination of God’s call on our lives?
My response is: no, today marks not the end of the journey, but a new beginning. As we exit the hallowed walls of ABSW, we will begin new ministries as pastors, community service leaders, head of non-profits that will mitigate social injustices, or even instructors to prepare future seminarians who like Isaiah will say, “Here am I Lord, send me.” Send us to those who are without shoes, clothes, food and shelter to provide for those necessities so many take for granted. Send us to those who are exploited and marginalized who have no hope and cannot acknowledge that they may be on the brink of change. Send us to individuals in the midst of spiritual dry places and tell them about the love of Jesus Christ. Send us to those in need of healing and restoration. No, our work is not finished, our work has just begun.
Often, on graduation day, we look outside for heroes, but I see them right here among us. I have seen in my years at ABSW that we don’t have to look far for inspiration, and that we each have the potential to make an inspiring contribution to others by being true to our values and committing ourselves to lofty goals.
When you leave here today, celebrate what you have accomplished but look forward with an eye toward how you too can be the inspiration for others.
Congratulations Class of 2013!