KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) — The Daniel Lee Chapel was dark. The parking lot was empty. There was no grandiose graduation service or celebration at Midwestern Seminary’s Kansas City campus on May 1, as originally planned.
For the first time in the school’s history, there would be no commencement exercises. On a day that is normally filled with pomp and circumstance, COVID-19 had other ideas.
But the pandemic’s disruption did not dampen the spirits of the seminary community as 231 students were awarded degrees and graduated into their ministry callings.
“It’s hard to believe that today, our planned date for Spring 2020 Commencement, finds us with a quiet campus,” Midwestern President Jason Allen said. “No one would have fathomed this two months ago. Nonetheless, today we graduate, in absentia, another record class of 231 Gospel servants. We are extremely proud of the accomplishments of all these, who have worked so hard to earn their degrees.”
Despite the quiet campus, there were celebrations. Virtual commencement festivities kicked off Friday morning with Allen providing a charge via recorded video that was sent to all graduates. In it, he noted that while students had not planned to participate in this way, they are part of a historic graduating class.
“This is the first time in the history of Midwestern Seminary, founded in 1957, that a graduation could not take place as scheduled,” Allen said in the video. “So, in an odd way, congratulations — you’ve made history! You can tell your kids and grandkids, and everyone else, about this for years to come.”
Allen thanked the students for entrusting Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College with their theological education and shared how proud the schools’ faculty and staff are of them.
“I expect that you will remain men and women of God, devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “Carefully guarding your hearts, preserving your character, leading and living your ministries in a way that can attest with 1 Timothy 3 — that you’ll remain faithful to the Word of God, believing in its full inspiration, its full authority over your life and ministry [and] that you’ll remain committed to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
He added that the graduates should never forget the Great Commission, saying: “Give your life to spreading the Gospel, and as you do that, you will serve the church. I encourage you to press on in the words of our Lord, fulfilling the Great Commission, making disciples of all people, baptizing them the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. …
“I thank God for people like you. We navigate these unusual circumstances together, but we look forward with hope, with expectancy, and with buoyancy, knowing the promises of God are still true, and all the more certain, even amidst our current national chaos. God bless you, and best wishes.”
Allen concluded by reminding graduates that if they desire, they can walk in the December 2020 or May 2021 commencement exercises. To view Allen’s entire charge, visit https://www.mbts.edu/sp20graduates.
Honoring the schools’ graduates — while mostly not in person — took the form of congratulatory videos from the faculty, which can be viewed at the link above. There were also numerous greeting and well-wishes via social media.
One such social media post included Jared C. Wilson, assistant professor of pastoral ministry at Spurgeon College, saying via Twitter, “Congrats to all our grads. It was a weird, wild semester, to be sure, but you reached that finish line. Put all your training to use in all the days ahead #forthechurch and to make Jesus look big!”
Other mini-celebrations took place across Kansas City while observing appropriate social distancing measures. Matthew and Angela Swain, both professors in Midwestern Seminary’s Worship Ministries Department, celebrated with some of their department’s graduates by visiting their homes.
“From the moment we meet our students until the day they receive their degrees, we are personally invested in their lives and in their academic, personal, and spiritual growth,” Matthew Swain said. “We become and remain a close family, for certain.”
He added that when COVID-19 threatened to squelch the joy of the ceremony, in which faculty and students can celebrate together, “We couldn’t keep ourselves from finding a way to minister to them by bringing the joy and celebration to their doorstep.
“We are so proud of their achievements, but we are also honored that the Lord allowed us the joy of serving them — passing along the torch of ministry and, in today’s case, passing off some yummy desserts, lots of smiles, and an admonition to persevere in joy!”
Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College awarded the largest graduating class in the schools’ history: 246 degrees earned by 231 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students. Notable among those is a record 16 Ph.D. degrees awarded and 55 M.Div. degrees earned, the most in 25 years.
“Seeing doctoral students complete their course of study is a great joy, especially as it represents the terminus point of a long and rewarding journey at the highest academic level of theological education,” Provost Jason Duesing said. “We are grateful for each of these, their churches, and their families, and we are honored to have them join the growing body of doctoral alumni from Midwestern Seminary. We are grateful for each of these, their churches, and their families, and we are honored to have them join the growing body of doctoral alumni from Midwestern Seminary.”