May 20, 2012. 3:00 p.m. Central Lutheran Church. Luther Seminary Commencement. 175 glowing graduates. Certificates and degrees awarded. Robes and regalia in abundance. Glorious singing. Wonderful speakers. Well-planned. Good weather. Family and friends filled the huge sanctuary with a celebratory buzz and discreet camera work. All in all, a great day.
As I reflected on this graduation gala, it was a lot like the previous three commencements I have been part of since coming to Luther in the summer of 2008. Great grads, great celebration, great hopes, great day. A privilege to participate.
At the same time this one was different. In previous years I knew some of the graduates well and recognized others, but had to acknowledge that I simply didn’t know most of those whom we were honoring. That was okay. Others knew them. The complex system of requirements had been met and duly attested. It was fine.
But I’ve been here long enough now to have some shared history. As I looked at the names (especially the M.Div. graduates) in the program and watched them go forward to receive their diplomas, this year was different for me. Conversations, crises, consternations, dreams, frustrations, hopes, confrontations, realizations, celebrations—all those memories of “walking with” crowded together and filled the moment with a deep, rich gratitude and hope.
It recalled for me similar moments in ministry when I realized that I was no longer new to the place but had actually been woven into the lives of the people; I trust it will happen for you in your ministry, too. It was about the third or fourth year in my first parish when I realized that the celebration times like graduations or confirmations had an added dimension of depth and meaning now that I had actually shared some of the lives leading up to that moment. It had been fine before; it was great now.
There was a similar watershed time somewhere in the first few years of ministry when the congregation wasn’t “they” anymore; the congregation was “we.” I was looking out at people with whom I now had shared history—and preaching, teaching and worship took on added depth. I had been with them in sorrows and joys, as well as in the sheer dailiness of life, and worship had taken on added delight and depth.
So, thanks, 2012 grads. It was a great day and a great reminder of the deep joys of ministry over time.