May 17, 2011 Works

                Saturday was a glorious day as we celebrated Central’s 109th commencement at Friendship Baptist Church in Kansas City, MO.  Twenty students received degrees, and nine more received Certificates for Ministry in the Foundations program.  The class of 2011 included graduates from CBTS/Wisconsin, CBTS/Tennessee, the Urban Core Initiative, and the Shawnee campus of Central.   A commencement service, more than any other event in the life of a theological seminary “makes visible the good work of the school…” in the words of Dan Aleshire, Executive Director of ATS.

                As we near graduation each Spring, I remind seniors that “salvation is by grace, but graduation is by works.”  Actually, some grace is involved for most of the graduates!  I do not want to minimize, however, the level of personal investment and sacrifice necessary to complete the rigorous academic programs offered by Central.   Often an exam or paper is emailed to professors well into the night, perhaps the only time available to do the work for their classes.  

These students attend seminary while already serving in ministry; they are regularly testing in their congregations what is learned in the classroom.  Pastoral mentors and church members are partners with the seminary in shaping faithful ministers.  The seminary cannot form students in the practice of ministry without contexts that allow them to practice.  Celebrating these graduates is also a celebration of the churches who gave them opportunity to preach and teach, plan and serve.  Commencement also celebrates that God continues to supply leaders for the church.

It was especially meaningful to hold commencement at Friendship Baptist Church, a robust African-American congregation ably led by Rev. James A. Terrance, Jr., a distinguished alumnus of Central.  Four of our graduates serve on the ministry team there, and one current create student is a minister in training. It is this kind of partnership between seminary and congregation that can be so generative.  When we travelled to Myanmar two years ago, we held the commissioning service at Friendship, in part because two of their ministers were going on the pilgrimage, but also because the church is invested in the life of the seminary.   One of the core values of the church is radical hospitality, and Central received a lavish expression of this Christian virtue through the kindness of the staff and members.

Hard work brought 29 students to the joy of completion.  I trust that they could hear, amidst the many words of congratulations spoken by family and friends, the voice of the Spirit saying: “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

Molly T. Marshall

                To learn more about the interface of grace and works in salvation and graduation, continue visiting our website




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