The Last Graduation

IMG_5792A vibrant five-year old voice filled the room, announcing, “It’s showtiiiiiiime!” the cue for another dozen small voices to join in singing the opening song for the twenty-fourth — and last — graduation ceremony for our Open Arms Preschool. I’ve only missed one commencement in my twenty-one years here in Palm Coast. As we close the doors on this ministry, I am already missing the songs, stories, prayers, laughter and screams that are a part of early childhood education.  Continue reading

Graduation at the Sem

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After a day of passing ominous clouds and occasional showers, the weather cleared enough for the 174th commencement exercises of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis to be held outdoors in the quadrangle on the evening of May 17. Row after row of white chairs slowly filled with friends and family, including lots of infants and toddlers who suddenly had become pastors’ kids. The ceremony began as graduates, faculty, staff, and regents all filed in to a “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation” accompanied by a 12-piece brass choir.

After opening prayer and scripture, the speaker, Dr. Abjar Bahkou related his journey into Lutheran Christianity that began of all places in his home on “the street called Straight” in Damascus, Syria, right across the street from where Annanias had gone to baptize Saul (Acts 9). His Christian life, which began steeped in works righteousness, was soon transformed into one of grace, and he helped plant ministries to Islamic Americans through People of the Book Lutheran Outreach (POBLO). While there is much in the news to make us fear Islamic militants, there are also many stories of the Gospel’s advance into that culture. I have heard many over the past few weeks.

Then it was time for the conferring of degrees. Each graduate was invested with a hood as Masters of Arts, Masters of Divinity, Doctor of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy honors were given. A few honorary awards were then presented. Everything was done in a very somber and academic way, punctuated by screams of delight from the crowd as their favorite graduate’s name was called.

Finally, they were done. Well, mostly. Some still had a few weeks of internship or some recommended study to complete, but their degree was in hand! At that moment, I wondered if they realized the major changes about to take place in their lives. This time when they left each other, they wouldn’t be returning for another semester. They would begin their new assignments in churches all across the country. There would be visits of course, conferences, conventions and some video chat, but not the same day in day out shoulder to shoulder pilgrimage together.

I reminded each of Adam’s closest friends that they may never have friends as close as the ones they developed at seminary. Do what you need to do to stay in touch, for you will always share a bond in pastoral life that those on the outside will never fully appreciate.

Pastor Adam Douthwaite and his wife, Deaconess Sarah Douthwaite

Pastor Adam Douthwaite and his wife, Deaconess Sarah Douthwaite

Graduations

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Over the next three weeks I will attend three graduations.

The first will be my son Adam’s and his wife Sarah’s graduation from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis on May 17. He’ll receive his Master of Divinity, ready for the pastoral ministry and she’ll receive her Master of Arts in Religion for work as a deaconess. Though not quite as exciting as the call service, they both worked very hard to achieve this honor, and I am very proud of them.

A week later, it’s time for preschool graduation at our church. This annual spring event showcases songs they’ve learned over the year, includes much pomp and circumstance and each shares what they want to do when they grow up. Along with the usual assortment of doctors and firefighters will be a few aspiring princesses and superheroes! I wouldn’t miss this for the world,

And then, a week after that, it’s my youngest daughter Olivia’s graduation from high school. Our last high school graduation until the grandkids come along. As senior class president, she’ll get to give a welcome speech, and is receiving her diploma with Cum Laude honors. I’m very proud of her, too!

Of course, each ceremony will be followed by festivities. What a month of May! (Watch this space for my response to each occasion.)

Into the real world

My daughter is moving to Atlanta in a few weeks, to being her post-college life. Having landed a job, she is off into the world. I am trying hard to remember my transition from college to the real world thirty years ago.

To the best of my recollection, it was a long six weeks that I spent living back at home after finishing college. Finally, my letters and applications were noticed, and phone calls came. I was off to full-day and multi-day interviews at places like New Jersey Bell and Bell Labs (yes, I am old enough to have worked for Bell Labs).

There are few experiences as rewarding as someone calling you wanting to schedule an interview. One would be actually getting a job offer! The days following the job offer were spent trying to find an apartment, moving, and setting up a place to live. My first apartment had a table, a chair, a dresser and a bed. I’m pretty sure that’s all I had. I don’t remember if I had a bed frame or not. I may have begun with a mattress on the floor. In time, I added a piece of carpet and some shelves. But you know what? I really didn’t care. It was so cool to be on my own and have a job.

After I visited a local church, I remember the day the pastor came to visit me. I had nowhere to sit, so we sat on my new piece of carpet in the living room. Eventually I got a TV, a stereo, a sofa, and a dog. Life was good. And life was cheap, too. One person to feed. No cell phones. No laptops. And an amazing feeling of freedom, identity, and purpose.

Graduation past and present

As I get ready to attend my daughter’s graduation from the University of Florida this Friday I am desperately trying to remember my own college graduation in 1979. The only thing I can actually remember is that the speaker was science fiction author Isaac Asimov. I’m sure my dad has a few pictures somewhere, but that’s about it. And to tell you the truth I can remember a single thing about my graduation from seminary. How things have changed. After this weekend we’ll have hundreds of photos from the many who attended and share them on social media sites. I have a feeling we’ll be sitting pretty far away from the action, but like everyone else, we’ll be zooming in the best we can.

Florida State University Graduation

Our family traveled to Tallahassee yesterday for FSU’s commencement this morning.  My son, Adam, received his bachelor’s of science degree in Sociology with a religion minor.  There were just under 1000 receiving degrees today (at the 9:00 am ceremony), with some master’s and doctorate’s mixed in, too.

For an occasion of that size, things were well-orchestrated.  Done in two hours.  A quick speech by an alumni, Gen. Jay Warner (ret.) got a nice round of applause.  Everything was done in a dignified and respectful manner, suitable for those who had worked so hard over the last four or more years.

I tried to remember my own college graduation 30 years ago from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.  Tough to do.  I remember that our speaker was science fiction author Isaac Asimov.  That’s about all I remember.  I am sure my parents have some pictures somewhere.  I should try and track them down.  My diploma, all in Latin, is in a folder on a shelf in my office at church.  Maybe it’s time to frame some of those documents.