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.