Wow! It’s really here! This room is filled with students, friends, families, pastors, congregation members, colleagues, faculty and staff, trustees, and clients, and they’re all here with one purpose; to celebrate the accomplishments of the 2017 graduating class of Moravian Theological Seminary. That’s pretty amazing. I think what I need most right now is to take a deep breath and soak this all in, and I invite you to do the same!
There are a few key concepts and words that have shaped my time at seminary, but as I look back on the past four years, one that keeps coming up is the word “STORY.” Seminary is all about stories: learning how to rediscover and take ownership of our own stories, how to listen to the stories of others past and present, how to see and embrace the connections between their stories and ours, and to see how the stories of those who have come before shape and influence our stories. I have found that the sharing of stories between two people can be sacred. When one person opens themselves up enough to another to share who they are and where they have been, and the other genuinely listens and receives, I find that as an invitation for God to be in the midst of that sharing.
Seminary classrooms are one place for stories. In counseling and spiritual direction courses we have been taught the skills to truly engage with the stories of clients and parishioners, listening for ways to help these individuals to engage more fully with them. In theology courses, we have examined what people believe and why, recognizing that what they believe is always shaped by the context of their own experiences, as are ours. In history courses, we read and discussed the lives of those who have come before and shaped our understanding and our faith, and grappled with questions of how they relate to us today, and what we can learn from them.
And then of course there is the Lebenslauf. Now if you are not Moravian, or if you have not been a student at MTS, you are probably saying Leben what? Lebenslauf is German for life’s path or life’s course. In other words it is your story, and the sharing of a person’s lebenslauf is a Moravian tradition. We are asked to share it with our classmates during a few of our courses. It can help to make more intimate connections with the people that you will be spending your days with as you grapple with deep spiritual questions. It has also helped me to get to know my own story more intimately.
But the classroom has only been one of the places where this sacredness of sharing can be felt. Student pastorates, and counseling internships, and cultural diversity placements provide ways to connect with people, to get to know them, and to hear about who they are and how they got to where they are. For me this happened in churches, social work agencies, restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, other countries, and people’s homes. I ask you to ponder where those places are that you have encountered a sacred sharing of story with another?
And then of course, there are all of the life experiences shared among classmates. As I pondered all of the ways we have shared life with one another over the past few years, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with gratitude. We have explored and talked about past chapters, and we have written these most recent ones together. I can’t help but think of the different genres of story that have emerged over the past few years among the graduating class of 2017. There have of course been those great adventure novels, venturing out into the unknown, trying new things, never being quite sure what was going to happen next, always full of twists and turns and surprises. There have been great tragedies. Some of us experienced the death of family or close friends during our studies, taking time off for funerals and grieving, and clinging tightly to the support of this community through the heartache and tears. There were lots of romances written in the lives of seminarians over the past few years. This can be evidenced by the three classmate weddings I have attended while a student, the three that I will be attending in the next four weeks, and the one post elopement shower that I helped to plan during my first year! There were many coming of age stories of students finding themselves, and discovering who God called them to be. And sprinkled in amidst all of these narratives was a whole lot of comedy. Comedy that comes in the form of finals week brain mush meltdown at three am in Wittenburg, from realizing that exegesis was not Jesus with super powers, from pun wars on facebook because being punny is a prerequisite to ordination, from hearing one of the most well-read professors you know sharing the story of the Pea little thrigs, or one of the most energetic and excited professors you know trying to be quiet for five whole minutes, or from the annual report from Billy Bob Zinzendorf. These stories and so many others have been shared and made in the kitchen grazing on snacks from the kitchen fairy, in the student lounge, in classrooms and the saal, at social gatherings like four o’clock club and seals rehearsals, at the picnic tables, and in homes of students and professors. But here is the beautiful and amazing part of it. These narratives are written in our hearts, and can be read and reread through our rememberings in the days and years ahead. The learnings, growings, and sharings, that have come in the last two, three, four, or more years, do not end today, it is not the end of the book, simply a turned page for a new chapter.
I am grateful for the sacred moments that have come from your willingness to share your stories and the stories of those who have come before, and I am exceedingly grateful that you have all played a role in my story through these past few chapters. I look forward to the times and ways that you and others will make appearances in the chapters to come. To the graduating class of 2017, thank you, congratulations, and best wishes for the future!