From guinea pigs to graduates

From our first admissions interviews to developing senior traditions, being part of the “inaugural” cohort has been an exercise in figuring it out, being patient, beta testing, pioneering and wandering into new territory.

Many of our instructors had never taught classes online before, nor had they juggled the requirements of face-to-face students with the needs of our dispersed group.

Most of our home congregations, pastors, and judicatory bodies were unfamiliar – if not skeptical – of a full degree program. How could you possibly learn preaching or teaching or those pesky ancient languages this way? Are these like correspondence courses, only electronically delievered?

We had no idea into what we were entering- other than we’d have a group of us muddling through together. For five years. What if we didn’t really get along? Five years might feel more like 50! More importantly, what if the seminary got halfway into our group’s paradigm and couldn’t support the program any more? What would we do then?

And yet we persevered, adapted, learned, adjusted and counted on UDTS to do the same. We found some traditions that just don’t translate to a distance model, and created some rituals of our own. We whined some, and we worked the process a lot. We were advocates for ourselves and the students following behind us. And we read, posted, wrote, watched, listened and read some more.

It’s amazing how long and how short those five years actually were. And how much my life has changed, even as it remained the same. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned in those almost 90 credit hours, and it’s even more amazing how much I have discovered I don’t know. This I do know: seminary, whether via distance ed or not, is no passive academic exercise.

The whole weekend went so quickly. Between the schedule and the swirl of family and friends (and cold medicine), it seemed there was not enough time to just take in the reality that we were done. It’s still sinking in that the diploma I brought home with me is mine. In some ways, it seems way too small to signify the thousands of hours that went into it, the sacrifices that my family and coworkers made to allow me to spend all those hours, and the seismic shifts that have taken place in my heart, soul and mind as a result.

I’m deeply grateful to have sat at the feet of some amazing men and women as they poured not only their academic but their pastoral and personal energy into our lives. They modeled for us what it means to take the gifts God bestows and multiply them for the betterment of the church universal, to be generous with time, and to care deeply for those put in your charge.

As I sat in the Baccalaureate service, looking at the faculty members across the room, the people who had gathered to support their graduates, and my classmates around me, I suddenly felt the physical weight of my robe on my shoulders. It was as if all the expectations and hopes that I had pushed off into the future came to rest, along with the hopes and dreams of those who love and support me in this journey toward ordination. But it was less like a burden than like the warmth of strong hands offering encouragement. Like when my dad, or a coach or a friend would stand behind me, saying “Good job, kid. I’m proud of you.”

I’m deeply honored to have been part of this cohort and the larger class of 2012. I look forward to seeing just what God has in store for each of us.

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