Story Magazine - Third Quarter, 2002

Commencement 2002

Luther Seminary sends out 140 graduates to serve in God's world

A special moment happened just prior to Luther Seminary's 133rd commencement Sunday, May 26, at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. It was one among many such moments, yet this one was years in the making. Master of divinity graduates Katherine Finegan, Judy Reitz and Shari Mason set eyes on each other from across the room where students gathered prior to worship. Other graduates donned their commencement gowns and examined the worship bulletin in preparation for commencement. When Finegan, Reitz and Mason saw each other, they immediately met in the center of the room... and hugged. Their embrace seemed to seal the moment with joy and thanksgiving. The day all three stepped forward to receive their degree certificates and hoods was the culmination of hard work, much prayer and a good measure of God's Holy Spirit. 

"I loved Dr. (David) Tiede's smile when he gave me the diploma, and Dr. (Sarah) Henrich's smile when she hooded me," Reitz recalled.

More than 140 graduates received degrees during the ceremony. Of that number, 82 received master of divinity degrees, and 35 received master of arts or master of sacred music degrees. Other graduates received master of religious education, doctor of ministry, master of theology and doctor of philosophy degrees.

"It was a fun, wonderful time," Reitz said of commencement. "It's also bittersweet because [Luther Seminary] has been such a big part of our lives. I've loved the teaching, learning and the people. I've loved being in a community where people think about God. I know I'll miss that."

Commencement brought joy and thanksgiving not only to graduates, but also to family members, beloved friends and many congregations that have encouraged students with prayers and other means of support. More than 150 congregations were listed in the commencement program for their role in support of students' seminary work. They had names like Calvary Lutheran, Grace Lutheran, Our Saviour Lutheran, Victory Temple, Korean Presbyterian Church and many more. The churches, mostly Lutheran, encompass 19 states and stretch across four continents.

God's spirit at work

"God's spirit is as relentless as God's love," the Rev. John Forliti told graduates during his remarks to them. Forliti is pastor at St. Olaf Catholic Church in Minneapolis. "God's spiritis ever at work, starting up movements within, breathing ever afresh."

Forliti is a graduate of Luther Seminary, earning his doctor of ministry degree in 1980. He has served as vice president for student affairs at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, as director of programs for Minneapolis-based Search Institute, and has taught extensively on topics dealing with family life, adolescence and sexuality.

Forliti based his comments to the class of 2002 on Jesus' words in Luke 24:49: "See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." Forliti encouraged graduates to place their trust in that promise. "May you embrace, and may we all embrace, the promise of Jesus, the gift of his spirit, without reservation," he said. "May your, and our, ministries be ever open to new and fresh promptings of new pentecosts as Gods' spirit sustains you."

Making a distinction between movements and institutions, Forliti declared that there is need for both movements and institutions in God's church. "God loves to keep us on our toes--that's movement--as we strive to keep our feet on the ground-- that's institution. But then, why would we ever think that we could actually capture the breath of God?"

Finegan delivered a response on behalf of the graduates. "Luther Seminary is its own kind of community of faith," she said. "Like a congregation, we are bound together by the Spirit that calls us and guides us, but as students, we are also bound by common experience. We have had our mettle tested together in the same fire of academic demands. Simply put, we have all survived late nights, early classes, struggled to write papers and endured long hours of study."

Finegan recalled many hours of study in a Gullixson Hall computer lab. "The first time I studied there...I was really in a groove," she said. "I was focused. My urge to procrastinate had subsided and words were flowing from my mind to the page in one fluid typing motion. But suddenly my ears were assaulted by the most jarring, violent clanging. I literally jumped out of my seat!" The sound was that of the bell, ringing to announce the end of class period. It was located directly above the computer she worked at. Some days later, Finegan covered the bell with a large foam pillow. "To the students who continue to study there, I say 'you're welcome!'"

The bell is not unlike ministry, Finegan declared. "Often just when you're in a groove and something on your to-do list is getting done, a loud clanging bell will ring and distract you from your focus. It might be a doorbell, or the phone or a soft knock on your door. A dying parishioner, a student in crisis, a youth who stopped by to chat--much as we try to budget our time, these interruptions just don't happen when it's most convenient.  

"And it is at those times, that we would do well to remember that what we are trying to do, what we are called to do as teachers, pastors, workers in ministry, we do not do alone," Finegan continued. "The Holy Spirit is working so that the clanging bells and unpredictable demands of ministry are not only manageable, but a source of great joy, of new life and an opportunity to deepen relationships."

Hultgren named Asher and Carrie Nasby Chair, New Testament

Also during commencement, President Tiede announced Dr. Arland Hultgren the newly established Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Chair in New Testament. The Nasbys were active members of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Jackson, Minn. Family members established the endowed chair to honor their memories and to recognize the outstanding leadership Luther Seminary has provided to Our Savior's for many years.

Hultgren came to Luther Seminary in 1977 as associate professor and was named professor in 1986. He has distinguished himself as a teacher, author and scholar. "To be appointed to the Asher and Carrie Nasby Chair is a high honor and a superb pleasure," Hultgren said. "Whenever a person appointed to a chair, that person becomes intertwined in a formal way with those who have established it. My life has become associated with the extended family of Asher and Carrie Nasby. I could not be happier."

Hultgren is currently writing a commentary on the book of Romans. It's a wonderful experience, according to Hultrgren, and one that has enhanced his teaching. "I am learning lot, and my work in this area continues to enrich my course on Romans," he said. "I can't remember ever being so excited before about a project, and it has given new impetus to my classroom teaching of Romans." The commentary will take several years to complete.

Student awards

Each year, several awards for excellence are given to graduating students. The awards given this year are:

The Graduate Preaching Fellowship
David Robert Lyle
This award is given to an outstanding master of divinity student from the senior class. The fellowship provides Lyle with financing to study preaching overseas to enhance his career in preaching and parish ministry. Lyle plans to study at the University of St. Andrew's, St. Andrew's, Scotland.

The John Milton Prize in Old Testament
Clint Schnekloth
Beverly DeBord Self
This award is given to one or more students based on papers written by graduating master of divinity or master of arts degree students in the area of Old Testament. Self's paper is titled "After Reading Job: Where is God When the Text Stops?" Schnekloth's work is titled "Reading Psalm 51."

The A.E. Hanson Prize in Homiletics
Therese Marie Brownson
Katherine Ann Volz Finegan
Geoff Trent Sinibaldo
Timothy Paul Westermeyer
The A.E. Hanson Prize is awarded to graduating seniors based on homiletical skills.