Wartburg Theological Seminary Hosts Baccalaureate and Commencement for 168th Graduating Class
Wartburg Theological Seminary (WTS) honored 64 degree and certificate candidates and four special guests over the weekend of May 14-15, 2022. Graduation festivities included a banquet for graduates and special guests, their families, and friends at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium 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 168th WTS Commencement at St. Joseph the Worker Church on Sunday afternoon.
Baccalaureate and Commencement
Commencement weekend at WTS is always a beautiful effort shared annually among students, faculty, and staff. After two years of a digital celebration due to the pandemic, WTS was thrilled to host these special events in person again with live streams for those who were unable to participate in person. What a joy to celebrate together as community—all degrees conferred and the Gospel proclaimed!
Special Awards and Honors
The Honorary Doctor of Divinity was presented at commencement to three recipients: the Rev. Dr. Gordon Lathrop, Dr. Gail Ramshaw, and the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb. The Living Loehe Award, 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 the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton.
Charge to the Class of 2022 from President Kristin Johnston Largen
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19
It is no surprise that this is the verse your class has chosen as the word of Scripture to mark you in this moment, to hold you together, and to signal to yourselves and others the gospel message you seek to embody and carry out into the world.
Second Isaiah in general, and this word in particular, has been comforting and encouraging God’s people for millennia, all the way back to God’s chosen people, the Jews, in the liminal time as they were coming out of exile and longing for sure ground on which to stand.
They had been through quite an ordeal, to say the least, and their faith was a little shaky. Their confidence had been tested, and the wounds of the past were fresh, the scars only just beginning to heal.
They desperately needed a good word from the Lord, a word that would point them to a future full of hope and promise, a word that would signal the possibility of a fresh start, a second chance.
And this word from Isaiah, this vision, delivers in spades: to the Israelites coming home, and to you going out.
To my ears, and I hope to yours as well, the most encouraging, most empowering word of this promise of the LORD from Isaiah, is the clear assertion of the agent of the new; and that is God.
God is doing a new thing, not you. The responsibility of the new does not rest first and foremost with you. So, when you find yourself surrounded by people who are looking to you do “something new,” come up with some great new idea, this text invites you to take a deep breath, and return in prayer and worship to the font of all things new; the One in whom you are rooted, the One at work even in that very moment, from whom the “new” always comes.
But to be clear, you do have something to do in this creative, new work of God. You are invited to perceive it, and participate in it, and magnify it with your presence and your passion. God’s creative work is not a spectator sport, and the Holy Spirit calls you to join in, as God works wonders in and around you. Graduates, you cannot yet even imagine all the new works of God you are going to experience in your life and your ministry. Surely, wonders are in store for you!
This sounds exciting, I know—and it is. And, at the same time, it is challenging. As you know, as you have experienced, people resist the new—sometimes we resist the new. Especially now, there are so many people who are longing for the old, the way it was, the way it used to be—you know, “BP”—before pandemic. The lure of the familiar is always strong; even when the familiar isn’t that great, at least it is “known,” and there is comfort in that. But God will have none of that. Our God is a God of the future, a God of new things.
With God, there is no going back. God is calling you, inviting you, luring you forward, with signs of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom that cannot be missed. Look: there is a path opening up where moments ago was nothing but a dead end. Look; there is a river, watering our dry, desiccated places, providing you sustenance and abundance. All around you, there are signs of the new life God has in store for you, the work God is doing to create and recreate our life together in all the places and spaces we find ourselves.
One last thing: please note what this text does not promise. The wilderness abides: God does not pave over the wild places, or put up floodlights to drive out its obscurity. The places of pain, of disorientation, of struggle and fear: those places remain. And you will be called to walk through them. And it will be hard. And it will feel long. And you will be afraid.
But, the sure promise, the abiding promise, the promise that will see you through, is that, when you find yourself in the wilderness, you will not be alone there, you are not without a guide there, and a companion on the way. You are borne up and carried along in Christ’s loving arms, arms that will not fail.
Look around—look at each other. Marvel where you are now, how far you have come, and where you are going—where you will be two weeks, two months, two years from now. Behold, God is doing a new thing; perceive it, and rejoice.
Response from Final Year Class Presidents, Jeanette Perrault and Aneel Trivedi
Thank you, President Largen. On behalf of the graduating class, we accept your charge with enthusiasm and gratitude.
And as we stand on the edge of our next adventures, we cannot help but marvel at the ways God has already been doing new things in our lives throughout our time here at Wartburg. We look forward with anticipation and hope, trusting that we are not sent out into the wilderness alone.
Because look who we get to be with, and look who we get to go with…
Look who we get to be with.
We are surrounded and supported by so many this weekend. Our families, who sacrificed so much to get us here. Our friends and classmates, who have encouraged us and laughed with us along the way. Our congregations who formed us and prayed for us. Our instructors who guided us, challenged us, and prepared us for what comes next. And we recognize those, too, who aren’t able to be with us the way we expected them to be today. Those where illness, distance, and time made travel too difficult. Those where unexpected situations arose so as to prevent them from coming. And those we are separated from in death- beloved family members, classmates, and our own Professor Gwen Sayler. Today we are with them all. As is so often is the case, both joy and grief are held together in times of transition. And yet we get to walk this way in the wilderness together.
And look who we get to go with.
We are sent out together as the body of Christ, and those who have journeyed with us so far go with us again. And we take with us the wisdom, hope, excitement, and energy we were gifted by this community. We recognize that this is a special place and this is a special class. We are a unique group of colleagues and friends who have loved and supported one another through uncertain, uncontrollable, and unpredictable times. Indeed, for many of us, Wartburg itself was a stop on an unpaved, wilderness road. And so we move forward from here with no illusions of what is to come, but instead with active imaginations about how we might participate in what God is already up to in the places where we are called. We will be scattered, but we go out together in hope and in love, transformed by God in this place and through one another.
Look at who we get to go with. We accept your charge, President Largen with clear eyes and grateful hearts, trusting the One who has already gone before us will continue to make a way.