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Iorg to graduates: Learn from ‘pandemic experiences’ by imitating Christ

ONTARIO, Calif. (BP) – Unable to conduct an in-person commencement exercise because of the coronavirus pandemic, Gateway Theological Seminary instead celebrated its Spring graduation ceremonies online May 22.

In an address to graduates, Gateway President Jeff Iorg identified three ministry challenges created or revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic: increased isolation, unabashed selfishness and improper ministry priorities. He said although the severity of these difficulties may change as the pandemic ends, the lessons learned by overcoming them will be relevant through a lifetime of ministry service.

“What is missing right now is the personal touch; the capacity to actually engage with another human being,” Iorg said. “To put your hand on their shoulder, to hold hands with them when you pray, to put your arm around them and give them an encouraging hug — those kinds of things are not part of our ministry environment today.”

Iorg said the absence of physical presence has underscored how important it is and challenged graduates to get their “hands dirty in ministry to hurting people” the way Christ did.

“Jesus could have healed in any way,” Iorg said, “but He often touched people who needed healing. … Jesus touched people — the blind, the deaf, the mute and a person bleeding from an ear stub. These were intimate, personal acts by Jesus.

“My challenge for you as a graduate this year is to go out and personally invest yourself in the lives of people: to engage them personally, directly, even intimately and in appropriate ways to extend yourself into their lives like Jesus did into the lives of these that he touched.”

He said the pandemic has also revealed a greediness in many people such as those who gathered excessive amounts of toilet paper or bottled water.

“Hoarding reveals the selfishness in our culture,” Iorg said. “Jesus models selflessness.”

Iorg said one positive aspect of the pandemic has been a fresh look at priorities.

“We have all had to realize we have been doing things that aren’t that important or effective and we don’t need to start doing those things again,” Iorg said.

Instead, he said, ministers ought to prioritize preaching the Gospel, calling people to faith, offering hope to the hopeless and helping people find Jesus in both life and death.

“We want to carry from this experience the continued discipline of emphasizing what is essential to our mission,” Iorg said. “Gateway graduates, you are marked as the class that graduated during the Coronavirus pandemic. Your ceremonies have been cancelled but your graduation has not.

“Learn from these pandemic experiences and go forward, personally engaging people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

In addition to Iorg’s online sermon, commencement services included encouraging messages from faculty shared through social media, celebration packages prepared for delivery to students, and a student award presentation hosted by Iorg in a video conference call.

Three students received Gateway’s highest student recognition, the William O. Crews Presidential Leadership Award: Ben Skaug, Eric Espinoza and Anthony Riley. Skaug completed a doctorate in philosophy and Espinoza and Riley both earned a master of divinity degree.