165th Commencement Exercises at WTS

Wartburg Theological Seminary (WTS) honored thirty-five degree and certificate candidates and five special guests over the weekend of May 18-19, 2019. Graduation festivities included a banquet for graduates and special guests, their families, and friends at the Grand River Center in Dubuque on Saturday. Baccalaureate was held on Sunday morning in the Loehe Chapel at WTS followed by a reception and campus open house. The weekend concluded with the 165th WTS Commencement at St. Joseph the Worker Church on Sunday afternoon.

Derek Rosenstiel, 2019 Master of Divinity graduate, shared of the occasion: “It is so hard to put into words what the beautiful and beloved Wartburg community means to me. As I graduate, I find myself experiencing both great joy and at the same time great sorrow. This place which I will forever call home has shaped and formed me to be the pastor that God has called me to be. I will deeply miss my time here in this sacred place. Wartburg has been a place where I have experienced in a very concrete way the love, acceptance, and embrace that come from Christ. Wartburg has also been a place where I have been challenged to expand my imagination of what God is calling us all as Church to be about in this time and in this wide, wide world. I know I will experience many challenges in the work of ministry ahead, but I go out with good courage and with the foundation which has been given through my time at Wartburg.”

In addition to the graduates and their families and friends, WTS welcomed and awarded five special guests for their accomplishments in the academy, the church, and/or society. The Honorary Degree of Doctor of Divinity was presented to Wartburg Seminary Master of Arts 2009 graduate Archbishop Samuel Enosa Peni, who was recently elected to his position in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and to Dr. Paula J. Carlson, President of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Dr. Carlson delivered the commencement address.

The Living Loehe Award, which was established by Wartburg Seminary in 1973 as a way of honoring individuals who have given distinguished service to and through the church and exemplify Christ’s call to be disciples in the context of their own daily lives and professional commitments was given at commencement to Caprice Jones, Founder and Executive Director of the Fountain of Youth; Ross Murray, Senior Director of Education & Training at The GLAAD Media Institute and consecrated Deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); and Venice R. Williams, the Executive Director of Alice’s Garden Urban Farm and Mission Developer in the ELCA. Each special guest shared a powerful, moving, and prophetic witness to the work that God has done in their lives and through their work. Wartburg is grateful to God for each of these individuals and their contributions to a world so longing to hear and see the Gospel.

The joy of graduates and special guests was palpable as they received their awards and diplomas. For Master of Divinity graduate Char Guiliani, beginning seminary was the last place she thought she’d find herself before setting foot on campus. Char shares of her experience from finding her way to seminary and now as a graduate, “If someone would have told me I would be attending seminary after retirement, I more than likely would have told them they had lost their minds. Five plus years ago I walked into the Castle and I knew this was the place for me and I thank God. I thank God for God’s strength, comfort and love through this process. I thank God for the staff here at Wartburg who has and continues to embrace who I am as my authentic self. I thank God for the community, both on and off campus, for the love and support shown to me through each and every class and conversation.”

Wartburg Seminary alumni are proud of their alma mater. When our alumni return to campus, they reminisce about time together with their classmates and with the faculty at the castle. We imagine this new class of graduates to be no different than the many who have come before. Master of Divinity graduate Tania Schramm shares, “As much as we might want to stay put, to make a place here, we can’t linger. On this journey, Wartburg is more like a rest stop than a destination. It is intended to be a place where we are gathered to be sent, where we learn for the sake of God’s mission in the world, and where we can carry this Wartburg community with us along the journey ahead.”

Wartburg Seminary is proud to send the 165th class of graduates out to serve in Jesus’ name and take the next step as faith leaders in their call to ministry. The WTS community of staff, faculty, and students echo the words of Jesus from the Class of 2019’s chosen verse, John 20:19, “Peace be with you” on the way!

More about the award winners
Carlson serves as the 10th President of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa since July 1, 2014. Carlson is a 1976 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of St. Olaf College. She holds an M.A., M. Phil., and Ph.D. in English and comparative literature from Columbia University. She has taught at Columbia, St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Yale University, and the University of Dubuque. Prior to becoming Luther College’s President, Carlson served as Vice President for Mission at St. Olaf College where she led initiatives related to students’ discernment of their vocations, to staff and faculty fulfilling their vocations at the college, and to St. Olaf’s identity as a college of the church. She has also served as Director of the Wendt Center for Character Education, and then as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Dubuque, leading the development of a new college core curriculum, interdisciplinary programs and initiatives in ethics and character formation in the college, graduate school, and seminary.

Archbishop Peni ‘09 was elected to a position of great responsibility in the global church as Archbishop in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan. He negotiates with wisdom the complexities of a divided region of our world. He studied at Wartburg Theological Seminary as an international student and earned his Master of Arts degree in 2009. As a student, Peni showed a deep, focused commitment to his call to bear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ in South Sudan. He displayed admirable skills in ecclesial leadership which was evident in personal conversations with him about the mission of the church in a global horizon.

Caprice Jones, the eldest of three siblings, was born in Chicago and grew up on the southside and westside. A troubled youth led to incarceration, and while in prison Jones found his desire to live a purposeful life. He earned his GED and deepened his faith. He has received many certificates and earned his Associate Degree. His vision to live a life of purpose despite his circumstances led him to inspire others to do the same. In 2017, he founded and became the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization in Dubuque, Iowa called the Fountain of Youth. The mission of the Fountain of Youth is to change mindsets that contribute to generational poverty. The program seeks to intervene in and overcome poverty through education, job training, and teaching the social skills and financial literacy required to navigate through cultural divides in our society.

Ross Murray is the Senior Director of Education & Training at The GLAAD Media Institute, which provides activist, spokesperson, and media engagement training and education for LGBTQ and allied community members and organizations desiring to deepen their media impact. Murray uses the best practices perfected by GLAAD to train a new generation of advocates in order to accelerate acceptance for LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities. Murray is a consecrated Deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with a specific calling to advocate for LGBTQ people and to bridge the LGBTQ and faith communities. Ross is also a founder and director of The Naming Project, a faith-based camp for LGBTQ youth and their allies.

Venice R. Williams is the Executive Director of Alice’s Garden Urban Farm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Venice has served the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for 30 years. She is the Mission Developer and minister for a community called The Table, a farm-to-church ministry based on the principles of the original Acts house churches, gathering on Wednesday evenings in homes, on the farm, and in other public spaces. Venice attributes her passion for “faith, food, farms, and folks” to her parents, grandparents, and her paternal great-grandparents, all of whom nurtured and nourished her understanding of what it means to have an active faith, to care for the Earth, and to feed the community, body and soul.