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God’s power evident among New Orleans Seminary grads

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s 79th annual commencement service included many walking testimonies of God’s transforming power in a person’s life.
Degrees were awarded to 221 students at the May 16 commencement, along with certificates to 20 students in the seminary’s various church leadership programs.
Patricia Healy Brown of Covington, La., a woman struggling from complications of cerebral palsy since birth, triumphantly walked unassisted across the platform, without even her usual cane, to receive the master of arts in Christian education degree.
“I may walk crooked, but I don’t think crooked,” Brown said. When she was a child she used to “work really hard to be ‘normal,'” she said, “but then I finally decided that God made me special. Now I like to encourage others to make the most of being special and work toward independence.”
Brown insisted on fulfilling the same requirements as other students in the seminary’s “Total Fitness and the Minister” course, in which students are led to consider how physical well-being exerts a positive influence on the mental, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of life, as stated in the course description. Students are required to exercise four times a week and walk or run one mile each week during the class hour, from which Brown could have been excused.
“They didn’t say how long I had to walk it,” Brown said, “so I thought if they’re OK with waiting all day for me, I’m going to walk a mile.” Using two canes, on her first try she finished the mile in 22 minutes and 18 seconds; by the end of the class, she had taken five minutes off her time and was using only one cane. She is religious education coordinator at St. John’s Orthodox Church, Covington, La., where her husband, David, is pastor.
Georgia M. Morris of Locust Grove, Ga., was the only graduate to walk across the stage in running shoes. Like Brown, Morris, whose legs and feet were severely injured in a near fatal car accident last year, successfully walked across the stage unaided to receive the master of divinity degree. Morris is minister of education and students at New Hope Baptist Church in Zebulon, Ga.
Grandmother Hazel C. Darden of Bogalusa, La., completed her bachelor of arts degree 43 years after graduating from high school and after postponing her higher education several times due to family illness and other responsibilities. A chaplain for the Washington Correctional Institute, Angie, La., her passion is prison ministry.
Thorn Lear, who worked eight years for Disney World as supervisor of horticulture, pest control and aquatic weed control, received the master of arts in Christian education degree. He has served since 1992 as the seminary’s director of grounds and pest control.
Jessie LePree of New Orleans and Carolyn McClendon, a contract teacher at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., graduated in the same class — several years before, McClendon had met LePree when she tutored students at the Washington Correctional Institute where LePree was serving a 17-year prison sentence. At the time, McClendon was a student in the social work program at NOBTS. LePree, pastor of a church at the prison, enrolled at the seminary one week after he was released from prison in 1994. On May 16 he completed the bachelor of general studies degree program; for the past two years he has been assistant pastor of inner-city Elysian Fields Avenue Baptist Church. McClendon completed the doctor of education degree program with a specialization in social work.
Two graduates persevered despite tragic deaths of loved ones during the course of their education. Fred Selby of Little Rock, Ark., completed the master of divinity degree in psychology and counseling. In the midst of his studies two years ago, his teenage daughter died after being struck by a car. Jack Still of Cullman, Ala., completed the normally two-and-a-half-year doctor of ministry degree program 10 years after beginning his studies. His wife, Shirley, was diagnosed with cancer in the early days of his studies and eventually died several years later. He withdrew from the program a few times to tend to her needs.
In his charge to graduates, seminary President Charles S. Kelley Jr. talked about “something that is on everybody’s mind — packing.”
Asking, “What do you pack if you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know how long it’s going to take to get there and you don’t know what you’re going to need along the way?” Kelley pulled out a piece of luggage from underneath the pulpit and said, “You need to pack carefully. I want to suggest four things that need to be in everybody’s suitcase as you’re getting ready to go.”
A copy of the 1996-97 campus pictorial directory was the first item Kelley took from the suitcase. “The reason you ought to be sure to pack a directory is that one of the things you’re going to discover you miss the most from this place are the relationships you have,” he said. Relationships with others will help to sustain them as they face the trials and tribulations of ministry, Kelley told the graduates.
“You must have friends to stay healthy in ministry. For every Lone Ranger, God created a Tonto. You will always have a need in your life for relationships with other people in ministry,” he said, citing Hebrews 10:24-25.
The second item was a spoon, which “may be one of the most critical things that you have packed,” Kelley said.
“All of us have a tendency to settle into a routine, to get comfortable doing the things we know we can do,” he said. However, as the Apostle Paul wrote “to his preacher boys, you need to ‘Stir up the gift that is in you,'” Kelley said, referring to 2 Timothy 1:6. Just as ingredients in a cooking pot must be stirred for everything to be evenly heated, rather than one part burning and one part remaining cold, “you must keep that spoon handy because we have a human tendency to get comfortable and settle in,” he said.
Kelley admonished graduates to “learn something new every year of your ministry, develop a new skill, change your routine, try new things in ministry that you’ve never done before. …
“Keep stirring that pot and don’t ever get comfortable being who you are right now … .”
Next, holding up a freshly laundered shirt, Kelley said, “Clean clothes are important,” referring to a Christian’s need for forgiveness. While Christians rejoice when an unbeliever accepts Christ as Savior, “for some reason they think it’s unusual when a believer stumbles and falls and needs forgiveness and cleansing and restoration.”
“You have not prayed your last prayer for forgiveness,” Kelley said. “One of the syndromes you will face is the ‘Perfect Pastor Syndrome,’ when because you are a full-time vocational servant of God your life is perfect, you don’t have any spiritual problems and you are always right.
“Well, I’ve got news for you: You’re going to need some repentance along the way. You’re going to need some forgiveness along the way, and you cannot be so professional in ministry that you cannot be a sinner calling out to God for forgiveness,” he said, citing 1 John 1:9.
“The one who doesn’t have that discipline of keeping a life holy and examined before God will be just as fresh in the ministry as the person who never changes clothes. The longer you go, the worse you’re going to smell.”
Then, because a person can’t pack everything that might be needed, Kelley held up a multipurpose, gadget-like tool known as a Leatherman. “You’re going to need a ministerial Leatherman,” Kelley said. “You’re going to need the Word of God,” proceeding to quote Psalm 19:7-11 from memory.
“In every area of your life, in everything you have faced, you have been prepared because of the Word of God. … The Word of God will give you insights as to what to do, it will give you the message your congregation needs to hear, it will give you whatever you need to make it through your day.
“The Word of God is the only thing that will work in every ministry you might do.”

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  • Debbie Moore