The 150th Commencement
The 150th Commencement: Seminary awards certificates, degrees to 65 members of the class of 2014
Remarks by former ELCA Presiding Bishop and reflections about Peter J. L. Perella among many highlights
Sixty-five seminarians were awarded certificates or degrees during the 150th commencement exercises of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, held May 20 , 2014 at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lansdale, PA.
The ceremonies, clearly a highlight of the school’s 150th anniversary year, featured stirring remarks from the Rev. Dr. Mark Hanson, immediate past presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the seminary’s parent denomination. Hanson and the Rev. Claire Burkat, bishop of the ELCA’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod and an alumna and trustee of the seminary, offered tributes to the Rev. Dr. Philip D. W. Krey, who ends his 15-year tenure as the seminary’s president at the end of August.
In welcoming remarks, Krey praised the graduates, calling them “wise and courageous leaders…who have already distinguished themselves as leaders in the church.” He acknowledged the service of two faculty members, the Rev. Dr. Wil C.M. Gafney and the Rev. Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes, who have received calls to teach at other seminaries. And he expressed his delight at the presence of Hanson, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree during the ceremonies. Krey termed Hanson a “public leader for a public church,” acknowledging him as an “unflagging advocate” for many causes, and expressed gratitude for his “enormously generous support” for the costly enterprise of theological education. Hanson served nearly 12 years a Presiding Bishop. During his term as presiding bishop, he was elected president of the Lutheran World Federation, and traveling widely in that role. His wife, Ione, was a guest at the ceremonies.
The ceremonies were marked by cheers and applause, but also by moments of sadness. Two graduates were honored posthumously. The late Anthony Eric Bunch was awarded an Urban Theological Institute Certificate of Christian Ministry. The late Rev. Peter J.L. Perella, who succumbed to cancer February 24 at the age of 35, was awarded a Master of Sacred Theology degree that was accepted by his widow, Kathryn, and the couple’s three children, Elizabeth, 8, Cecilia, 6, and Isaac, 2 (at right). A heartwarming tribute and personal reflection about Perella was offered by Hanson, who knew him well in Perella’s service to the denomination. Perella, who was the ELCA’s Director for Worship Formation and Liturgical Resources at the time of his death, oversaw the ministry of word and sacrament on behalf of the presiding bishop, and directed the work of the churchwide worship staff. The tribute brought tears to many in the audience.
Burkat introduced Hanson before his remarks, noting his “Lutheran witness has been marked by grace, insight, and sincere faith.”
Hanson congratulated the graduates, also praising the seminary that, despite challenges, “today 150 years later serves as a beacon in a public church, grounded in theology and scripture and in its community.” He called on the audience for a moment of “hooping and hollering” for a great seminary, and the audience readily complied. He also referenced the seminary’s President-Elect David Lose, praising him for his “evangelical and missional imagination.”
In his main remarks (some highlights only), Hanson gave the graduates a question to ponder, “What will be the THIS in the this and the that” that marks your lives and ministry? He referenced Mark:8 and the words of Jesus, who asked his disciples “‘who do you say that I am’…The question still stands today.” Hanson in recent weeks had contacted members of the graduating class for their insights on the question, and challenged the audience – on the spot – to address it with those seated with them in the pews. Hanson noted that Lutherans often remain reluctant to proclaim what Jesus means to them in their lives, and urged the graduates “wherever you are serving, whatever you become, to speak openly about this.” He said he believes that some of the exodus and disinterest of younger generations regarding the modern church has come about because there can be more rebuking than proclamation expressed by believers. And some of that rebuking is at the expense “of those in poverty, without jobs and needing food stamps. Those demanding equal education for all are rebuked and told there is not enough money. The migrants who grow our food, clean our cars and take care of our yards are rebuked…”
At one point he criticized the mindset of some preachers whose sermons can be marked by “homey platitudes, moral theistic deism, rather than focusing on God’s abundant mercy.” He said some messages “cater to consumer cravings and helping people feel better about their success.” He urged the graduates to resist making themselves their ministry, rather urging them to focus on their parishioners’ “longing to hear stories about Jesus. Point beyond yourselves to what this Jesus Christ as Lord is about. It is Christ present in life’s struggles, extending a radical welcome to all who are out in the world.” He said that Jesus is with people in all their brokenness and suffering, and that God has a profound solidarity with people suffering most in the world.
Hanson also urged the graduates to consider a final question. “Who will speak to you who are being called? Do you believe in God’s grace or don’t you? Who do you wish would speak God’s word of forgiveness to you?” He noted there will be times when the new leaders will wish they had done something they had not accomplished, or would feel they have fallen short. He said there may be family and friends to call upon at such times, also noting that if the graduates truly believe it, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit can speak to them of forgiveness.
Class of 2014 co-presidents Laura Tancredi and Karen Sease gave remarks based on the words of Psalm 90, “Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts with wisdom.” They cited memories ranging from the ringing of the Krauth Memorial Library clock’s bell to lessons learned in the classroom, noting that each member of their class was on a singular journey, marked sometimes during seminary by death of a loved one, marriage, new relationships, or the birth of a child. They noted the class had arrived as strangers, “but as we look around we see friends, colleagues, and partners in a ministry we share.” And as geographical distance may mark their journeys apart in the future “those relationships will be no less significant.” They noted that, as new patterns will come to mark their days, when their new calls are marked by challenges, they hope to “draw upon the lessons and patterns of seminary…and reach out to each other in support, friendship, and love. We remind each other that the work of the church does not ultimately depend upon us but on God. It is God who created us and redeemed us through death on a cross that will sustain us and the church throughout our ministry. Because of that we need not be afraid to try, to be creative in our work, and sometimes even to fail. We do not number our days in successes and failures, wins and losses, or according to any of the world’s standards. Instead, we number our days according to God’s unending grace and mercy.”
Seminary alumna the Rev. Audrey Moodey, ’88, representing the LTSP Alumni Association, extended “hearty congratulations” to the graduates and urged them to stay connected to each other and to the seminary. “Return for convocations. Stay in touch so that we may celebrate not only the joys of today but the celebrations of your lives to come as you go forth to do God’s work in God’s world.”
As the ceremonies closed, Krey thanked Trinity for hosting the ceremonies and offering a reception to follow in the church’s Hyson Hall. “It has been a wonderful privilege to serve you as president, and we are blessed to have David Lose as my successor. My last act is to summon all of you to our 150th anniversary celebration on October 16.”
Commencement participants, in addition to Krey, were the Rev. Dr. Jayakiran Sebastian, dean of the seminary, who distributed diplomas and certificates; the Rev. Dr. Robert Robinson, Anna Burkhalter Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew and Interim Faculty Secretary, who called the graduates forward; Gafney, Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament, who gave the opening prayer; Dr. Michael E. Krentz, Interim Chaplain, Director of Music Ministries and Seminary Cantor, who led music for the occasion; lectors Daniel Purtell, Student Body President, Class of 2014, and Theresa Reese, Class of 2014, and Jay Mitchell, Class of 2014, who was crucifer.
In a moment of personal privilege and testament to scholarly persistence during the awarding of degrees, Krey noted that Master of Arts degree recipient Christine Summy had “begun working toward this degree 15 years ago at the same time I became President.”
Certificate recipients are:
Urban Theological Institute Certificate of Church Leadership
Barbara M. Blount of Philadelphia, Debra Estella Simpson of Philadelphia, and Emory Ellis of Wyncote, PA
Urban Theological Institute Certificate of Christian Ministry
In addition to the aforementioned Bunch, who lived in Philadelphia:
Nancy L. Alston of Philadelphia, Lisa K. Beckton-Fitch of Philadelphia, Thomas C. Butler, Sr. of Philadelphia, Hazel Elizabeth Carrawell of Philadelphia, Patricia Ann Clark of Philadelphia, Heather Giardinelli Cronan of Merion Station, PA, Barbara Ann Goodson of Philadelphia, Wilberta C. Jackson of Norristown, PA, Yvonne Lytle of Philadelphia, Cynthia Yolanda Stanford of Jeffersonville, PA, Vernell M. Stewart of Philadelphia, Rosa Ellen Thomas of Philadelphia, and Tavio D. Williams of Philadelphia
Certificate of Theological Education for Emerging Ministries
Winston L. Dookram of West Islip, NY
Certificate of Theological Study
Derek William Solberg of Philadelphia (Lutheran Studies)
Advanced Graduate Certificate
Sarah Elizabeth Clausen of Philadelphia, Sharon Faye Fleshman of Philadelphia, Michael Giansiracusa of Palmyra, NJ, and Jennifer Lynn Sweitzer of Absecon, NJ
Degree recipients are:
The Degree of Master of Arts in Public Leadership
Carilynn Jann Hayes of Woodstock, GA (Honors), and Daniel Ebb Purtell of Hebron, CT
The Degree of Master of Arts in Religion
Caroline Ann Dunleavy of Berwyn, PA, Christine Louise Summy of Wyomissing, PA, and Brent Emerson Haddix of Philadelphia, PA (Honors)
The Degree of Master of Divinity
Karen Warker Bernhardt of Vineland, NJ (Honors), Agnes Glabdomai Bryant-Gbardoe of Trenton, NJ, Ronald Victor Dziuk, Jr., of Downingtown, PA, Daniel Kyle Eisenberg of Pittsburgh, PA (Honors), Joshua Henry Ferris of New Tripoli, PA, (Honors), Dedra Ann Florence-Johnson of Philadelphia (Degree awarded with Black Church Concentration Certificate), Paul Bruce Gibson of Tarpon Springs, FL, Tammy Patricia Harmer of Deptford, NJ, Timothy James Hearn of New York, NY (Degree awarded with Black Church Concentration Certificate), Ian Andrew Hill of Warriors Mark, PA, Douglas Kent Hjelmstad of Philadelphia, Eric Malm Johnson of Clinton, NJ (Honors), Jane Larsen McCready of Westfield, NJ, Jay Childs Mitchell of Naugatuck, CT (Degree awarded with Metropolitan/Urban Ministry Concentration Certificate), Julie Grasham Osterhout of Leesport, PA, Theresa Hill Reese of Sicklerville, NJ (Degree awarded with Black Church Concentration Certificate), David Thomas Reppert of Conshohocken, PA (Honors), Chris Allen Rothharpt of Birdsboro, PA, Karen Marie Sease of Columbia, SC (Honors), Ben William Siebert of Celina, OH (Honors), Dominic Sarmue Smyth of Yeadon, PA (Degree awarded with Interfaith Concentration Certificate), Jonathan Ryan Steiner of Lanham, MD, Laura Marie Tancredi of Lansdale, PA (Honors), and Dustin George Wright of Manchester, CT (Honors, Degree awarded with Interfaith Concentration Certificate)
The Degree of Master of Sacred Theology
In parentheses after the name of each candidate is the name of the faculty advisor. In some cases the subject of an STM thesis is noted in partial fulfillment of degree requirements.
The Degree of Doctor of Ministry
In parentheses after the name of each candidate is the name of the candidate’s project supervisor and the subject of the DMin project document submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree.
Il Sun Teresa (Sophia) Ko-Davis of East Greenbush, NY (Dr. Storm Swain, subject: Introducing Ancient Models of Spiritual Exercises and Contemplative Prayer in Ecumenical and Diverse Cultural Settings)
Robert Randall Thomas of Radcliff, KY (Dr. Robert Hughes, subject; Exploring Theodicy in Combat: How to Preach and Minister to Suffering Soldiers)
Stephen Paul Verkouw of Lancaster, PA (Dr. Richard Stewart, subject: From Pasture to Well: Facing Demographic Challenge and Developing Missional Identity in an Urban Congregation)
The Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
In parentheses after the name of each candidate is the name of the candidate’s advisor and the title of the dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree.
Shirley S. Guider of Center Valley, PA (Dr. Storm Swain, thesis: Contrapower Sexual Harrassment: Scarring the Sacred Relationship)
Timothy Andrew Leitzke of Philadelphia (Dr. Nelson Rivera, thesis: Kerygma and Anarchy: Bultmann’s Homiletic and Levinas’ Ethic as Partners in a Postmodern Homiletical Theory)
Leah Delight Schade of Milton, PA (Dr. John Hoffmeyer, thesis: Preaching and Ecofeminist Theology at the Crossroads: Homiletic Theory and Praxis in Dialogue with a Lutheran Ecofeminist Christology)
San No Thuan of Insein, Myanmar (Dr. Paul Rajashekar, thesis: The Lotus and the Cross: A Buddhist-Christian Engagement for Human Dignity and Human Rights in Myanmar)
About the commencement speaker and Honorary Doctor of Divinity recipient:The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, known for his evangelical passion and imagination, served nearly 12 years (2001-2013) as presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Prior to that election, he was bishop of the ELCA’s St. Paul Area Synod, having previously served as pastor of three Minnesota congregations. He advocates for the renewal of the church’s preaching and public voice, for the strengthening of ecumenical and inter-religious relationships, and for reconciliation and justice in society, with special attention to those living with poverty and discrimination. A Minneapolis native, pastor Hanson graduated from Augsburg College with a BA in sociology. He was a Rockefeller Fellow at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and received an MDiv from there in 1972. He also attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was a Merrill Fellow at Harvard Divinity School in 1979. In 2003 he was elected president of the Lutheran World Federation, and has traveled widely. During his service as presiding bishop, Pastor Hanson received honorary degrees from Augsburg College, Wittenberg University, Grand View University, Capital University, Lenoir-Rhyne College, Wartburg Theological Seminary, Susquehanna University, Wartburg College, and The Academy of Ecumenical Indian Theology and Church Administration, Madras, India. He is the author of two books, including Faithful yet Changing, The Church in Challenging Times (Augsburg Books). Pastor Hanson is married to Ione Agrimson, director of social work at Minneapolis and St. Paul Children’s Hospitals prior to moving to Chicago with her husband. The couple has six adult children and four grandchildren.
View a photo gallery of highlight images on the Commencement web page (more photos coming)