FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Spring 1997 graduates of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary received one final assignment May 17 in the closing moments of commencement: Invest their lives in the “restoration and healing of a world too sick to heal itself.”
The charge was part of the “commissioning” of the 361 graduates, a first-time commencement event at the 90-year-old institution. The “churches and mission boards commission people all the time,” Bill Tanner, president of the seminary’s national alumni association, explained. “And it is very proper Southwestern does the same because truly you have been set apart for a lifetime of service.”
Tanner, retired executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and former president of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, promised the newest graduates the “Southwestern family worldwide is committed to give prayer support to your calling and your ministry … as you plant the grace of God into whatever workplace is yours.”
Those workplaces promise to continue the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary’s global reach.
Students from the Bahamas, Canada, Paraguay, Japan, India, Liberia, Brazil, Korea, Taiwan, Malawi and Ghana were among the graduates, along with men and women from 32 states (including such non-Southern Baptist strongholds as Rhode Island, Alaska, Hawaii and Montana).
An estimated 4,000 people attended the event at the nearby Texas Christian University coliseum. Southwestern, one of the largest seminaries in the world, moved to the larger facility after outgrowing the 3,000-seat sanctuary of Fort Worth’s Travis Avenue Baptist Church.
“Why did you come to seminary?” seminary President Ken Hemphill asked rhetorically in his address, noting equal time, effort and money spent earning professional degrees in medicine, business or law would have been a much better investment financially.
Following a personal, spiritual “call” from God to prepare for Christian ministry should have equipped students to better see the world like Jesus, Hemphill said. “Jesus didn’t just see the multitudes — he saw sheep without a shepherd. He saw the spiritual condition behind the physical appearance.”
Hemphill challenged the graduates to look beneath the surface of the people they meet and to respond to those “dying inside as a result of sin” the same way God does — with compassion.
“Earlier I was admiring the bright banners hanging around this arena celebrating Texas Christian University’s athletic achievements,” Hemphill noted, his voice trembling slightly with emotion. “And I was struck by the awesome realization that you graduates sitting here today are going to be hanging banners of a different sort, banners celebrating victories around the world, victories that will last an eternity.”
Degrees granted included Ph.D.s in theology and religious education and other doctoral degrees in ministry and musical arts.
Masters degrees included: theology, divinity, music, missiology, marriage and family counseling, communications and church and community ministry.
Diplomas and certificates were awarded in theology, religious education, church music, Christian studies and Christian ministry.