May 19, 2015

Sending them Forth

Watching graduates cross the dais at the commencement ceremony brings great joy to faculty, families, and future employers.  These graduates are our “letters of recommendation” as they embody the mission of Central.  Since 1901 our seminary has been educating men and women for Gospel work around the world. We are grateful that this global reach is developing even further.  Seven men who had completed their Doctor of Ministry came from Burma (Myanmar) for this ceremony.  There was also significant Korean representation sprinkled among the other graduates.  It really did look like Pentecost, which surely must cheer the heart of God.

            I have been thinking about the new church that is coming, which will be browner and younger.  This emerging reality was on display as we gathered to celebrate and bless those who had completed certificates, diplomas, masters, and doctoral degrees.  Several generations of families attended, and little ones danced their delight in the aisles.

            Most of our graduates are already involved in important and varied ministries.  They serve as pastors, denominational leaders, principals and instructors in Bible colleges, chaplains, community developers, businesspersons doing ministry, and missionaries.
            Their experience of seminary is also varied as some come as mature leaders and simply need to hone skills; for others, it is a process of discovering giftedness and cultivating pastoral imagination for tending the flock, in whatever form it presents itself.

            As we send them forth, I offer this prayer in their behalf.

I pray that they will recognize their participation in the perichoretic movement of the Triune God, who is making all things new.
I pray that they will be sustained by the supply of the Spirit, who secures their lives in Christ, especially when discouragement lurks.
I pray that they will listen deeply to the cries of the world and offer the grace of God for comfort, healing, and transformation.
I pray that they will practice stability in their vocation, while continuously being converted in all ways of life.
I pray that they will follow the instruction of The Rule of St. Benedict in learning to “receive others as Christ” and to “do nothing without counsel.”
I pray that they will find trustworthy companions to “walk the mile and bear the load” with them.
Finally, I pray that they will find joy in faithful service, even when the way is hard.

Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

May 11, 2015

Absence and Presence

            Over the weekend many of us have sought to honor and remember our mothers, as well as give thanks for the varied forms of mothering we are gifted to offer and receive.  Treasured old pictures have surfaced, dusting off memories for us as we reflect on the presence or perhaps absence of this formative care.
            My own mother, Bernice Coe Marshall, was born the same year the Titanic went down (1912), and she always wryly noted that coincidence.  She grew up in a pastor’s household, that of her grandfather who served as a missionary in Indian Territory.  Her own father, a professional baseball player, had abandoned her mother and the two children, and they lived with the stigma of an absent father and subsequent divorce.
            Understandably, when she married she sought to provide stability to her family.  She delighted in caring for her husband, Truman, and her three children, which arrived after agonizing years of waiting, were her great joy.  I am grateful for her tireless efforts in our behalf, and my brothers and I share the graceful imprint of her love.  Absent from us, yet present with the Lord, we remember her fondly.
            We experience her presence as we tell the stories of her humor, her enduring identity as a “church lady,” and her embrace of her years as a widow.  We feel her absence as new children are added to the clan and think of how she would welcome them.  Presence and absence comprise the dialectic that frames life in relationship.

Copley, John Singleton, 1738-1815. The Ascension, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            Soon we will celebrate Ascension in the liturgical year, reminding us of the ways in which Jesus can be both absent and present as Risen Lord.  Luke offers two scenes of departure—at the conclusion of his Gospel and the beginning of Acts.  Marking the cessation of his earthly appearances, this version of the post-resurrection interaction between Jesus and his disciples culminates with his being “carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:31b). Acts puts it this ways: “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (1:9b).

JESUS MAFA. The Ascension, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            Remaining with them as Holy Spirit, yet being physically withdrawn from their sight, Jesus continued to inhabit their gatherings and their imaginations.  Their faith in him prompted their love for the saints and their proclamation of his resurrecting power.  They also had the impression that this form of absence would not be permanent, for “this Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way . . .” (Acts 1:11b).

Ascension of Christ, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

            Remarkably, ascension does not mark the end of presence; rather, it shifts the mode of presence into the empowered community who would recognize him in the breaking of break, acting mercifully, and welcoming the stranger.   As his visible body, the church embodies his continuing appearance.

            Molly T. Marshall

            Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.