Fifty two graduates receive degrees and certificates at the 151st Commencement
Inspirational remarks by Palestinian Lutheran Pastor Mitri Raheb a highlight
Fifty-two seminarians were awarded degrees and certificates during the 151st commencement exercises May 19, 2015 at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
In addition to the awarding of degrees and certificates, highlights included memorable remarks from Palestinian Lutheran Pastor Dr. Mitri Raheb, a presidential welcome from the Rev. Dr. David J. Lose, an address by Senior Class President Mark David Johnson, and a welcome to the graduates by Alumni Association President the Rev. Annemarie Hartner Cook. The seminary choir offered two selections under the direction of Dr. Michael Krentz and Sheila D. Booker.
In his welcome, Lose told the graduates, “We are delighted that you have been a part of our community, and we, along with parents, spouses, your children, and siblings rejoice in your accomplishments.” Lose asked the graduates to stand and extend via applause their appreciation to family members who had offered encouragement and support during their courses of study. He also gave thanks to Trinity Church for the congregation’s generosity in hosting the commencement and serving refreshments at the end of the services. (scroll down to watch selected videos and a photo gallery)
The introduction of Raheb was delivered by the Rev. Dr. David D. Grafton, who directs the seminary’s Graduate School and teaches Islamic Studies at LTSP. Grafton played a key role in arranging Raheb’s appearance.
Grafton described Raheb as a “quintessential public theologian and public leader.” Raheb is senior pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem and is president of Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture. Grafton described Raheb as continuing in his writings “to reflect on his specific social-political and religious context as a Palestinian Christian … It is from within this context that this pastor and theologian has responded creatively with a message of nonviolent hope. In April of 2002, Christmas Church was hit by tank shells and shrapnel due to air strikes. (Damage to the buildings over just a few days amounted to $500,000.) It is the razor-edged vicissitudes of his time that have placed Dr. Mitri Raheb in his context,” Grafton said, “but it is his calling to ministry as a pastor, teacher, and theologian that has led him to creative public leadership. It is fitting that we welcome him here today as we commemorate and send out these, our own, public theologians.” (Read a pre-commencement interview with Dr. Raheb here.)
Raheb told the seminarians that he had decided the best way to address them would be to share “my story, my personal story. Stories are very important. The Bible is nothing but one long story with different episodes. Our story as Palestinians is a continuation of one long story. Our story has been silenced for too long. Our story has been pushed aside.”
He decided that he wanted to share three important lessons he had learned in life through 30 years of ministry.
First, returning to Palestine after his theological training in Germany, he said he found himself “in a context I wasn’t prepared for … I had great ideas but people were not listening to them. I had to listen to where the people were, and what their needs and real issues were. Listening is the most important tool for anyone in ministry. Listening to what people say or not say, reading between the lines, and listening with the heart are the most important tools you will take into the world.”
Lesson two, he said, involves learning to see with new eyes the wealth of the gifts people around the graduates will bring their way. In his own context of early ministry, people “were just waiting for someone to discover their gifts, nurture them, and put them to work. They were eager to develop their skills, they were thirsty to be asked to serve, and they were ready to be empowered. I started seeing people around me with immense potential, education, passion, will. They were just waiting to be asked to join, to be of use, and to put their talent into service … It is often that we sit and wait, hoping for the perfect world, the perfect job, the perfect fit, and so we miss the potential that is just waiting to be unlocked. From my own experience I can tell you that there is no challenge without an embedded opportunity … Immense challenges bring with them endless opportunities. All we need are the eyes to see that, to see the potential of people around you and to ask them to join in service.”
He advised the graduates to remember, “We are not the Messiah. We are not the ones who are going to fix all the problems of this world. If we think this of ourselves we will be burned out. But once we see the potential of others we can delegate. We can work as a team. We can think together … I keep reminding our people that it is crucial to know our own calling and what might be the calling of others around us. But the most important thing is to know what is definitely NOT our calling. Often we are tempted to do this and that, to be here, there, and everywhere. We have difficulty in saying no because we believe the world will not be saved without us. But remember that our Messiah came a long time ago. We know this as a fact, because he was born just across the street from where I was born.”
Lesson three involves making a decision to reach out in the community beyond the walls of the church and leaving room for God in the plan. Raheb described the decision to do that in Bethlehem, and noted not everyone was pleased with the idea. “The church in Bethlehem was dying because for a while it stopped reaching out and being relevant to the community,” Raheb said. “I still remember how we started with eight chairs from the 1950s, one desk from the 1960s, an old typewriter and $327. At first it was a one-man show where I was the man and the show. It has developed to become the third largest enterprise in Bethlehem with more than 110 people working, with over 2,500 members and with 60,000 people participating in our programs each year. In the last 20 years we opened a brand new school, a Conference and Cultural Center, and the first Lutheran University College in the Middle East in the midst of 350 million Arab-speaking people.”
From this experience of reaching out, Raheb explained, the hardest lesson he had to learn was: “Every time I thought our vision was bold and big, the Lord had to show me it was too small — too small compared with the need and too small compared with what God had in mind for us. I had to learn to leave room for God in our plans. Because his plans for us are better and greater than we can imagine, desire or dream of…
“As you graduate, be assured that the Lord will be with you at all times,” Raheb said. “Listen with the heart to where people are! Look for the potential that is waiting to be unlocked! And leave room for God to do God’s work. He will give you ears to hear, eyes to see and he will be there for you all the time. And one last piece of advice, please dare to share your story. Your story is important, powerful. It is a continuation of that one long story.”
In his senior class address, Mark David Johnson told of attending a conference where a particular workshop was of use to him.
“The workshop used the book of Esther to address the challenges of leadership in an ever-changing context,” Johnson recalled. “So Esther, in a nutshell, an unlikely Jewish woman, finds herself chosen as the Queen of Persia. When she learns of a plot to extinguish the Jewish people from the city of Susa, Esther is faced with a decision: save her people or save herself. At a critical point in the story, she receives a message from her cousin. He says, ‘Who knows? Perhaps you have come to a royal position for such a time as this?” That phraseology, Johnson said, became the theme running through the conference, and, in fact, became Johnson’s mantra for a call to ministry.
“We see a world which desperately needs to hear God’s creative and redeeming word, and yet it is a world which has little room for faith,” Johnson said. “We are facing a decline in human and financial resources, yet we are expected to maintain a church model that simply no longer works. We are experiencing signs of death in the institution of the church, and yet we are blind to the resurrection happening in our midst.
“It is in spite of all this that I say to you: ‘Who knows? Perhaps you have come to this place for such a time as this.’
“Perhaps you gave up two home-cooked meals with your family every week for such a time as this,” he said. “Perhaps you took a week’s vacation from work to spend time in an intensive class for such a time as this. Perhaps you ended friendships — or relationships — moving to Philadelphia for such a time as this. Perhaps you’re up to your neck in student loan debt for such a time as this.
And yet, it is for such a time as this that we are sent out into the world,” Johnson said. “It is for such a time as this that we are called to share God’s creative and redeeming word with a broken humanity.”
Hartner Cook, in welcoming new alumni to the LTSP Alumni Association, explained that at the Spring Convocation she had been reminded in seeing the Class of 1950 present “that we are rich in experience.” And she said the LTSP alumni are also rich in diversity in traditions. Alumni, she said, “span the globe,” serving as preachers, teachers, pastors, and bishops. She encouraged the graduates to remember that “we are not done learning” and to keep in mind the need to research and retool themselves in order to enjoy their meaningful work.
The Rev. Louise Johnson delivered the opening prayer and the blessing and sending. President Lose took a moment of personal privilege to express deep appreciation for Johnson’s many contributions to the seminary as she prepares to depart to become president of her alma mater, Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.
Assisting Lose in the conferring of degrees were Dean J. Jayakiran Sebastian and the Rev. Dr. Karl Krueger, secretary of the faculty. Graduates Charmaine Green and Young Kyu Shin served as lectors. Graduate Inger Hanson was the crucifer.
Watch videos from the 151st Commencement:
View a slide show of Commencement highlight photos:
(click any image to go to the photo gallery)