By the Rev. Kyle Oliver
On Saturday, May 22, Church Divinity School of the Pacific held its 126th Annual Commencement Exercises via a prerecorded video ceremony and a live chat-based watch party. The event followed Friday’s student-designed baccalaureate service, an interactive Zoom-based liturgy of blessing and honor for the Class of 2021.
The return of baccalaureate and commencement represented a partial restoration of the seminary’s usual practices to end the school year. The Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of commencement activities in 2020, which were replaced with an informal online celebration of graduates.
This year’s student-selected baccalaureate preacher was Dr. Catherine Meeks, executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, who facilitated a formation week forum on racial justice at CDSP last fall. Meeks preached on Matthew 7:7-12 (“ask, search, knock”) as an invitation to an inner pilgrimage exploring the distinctive marks God has put on each of us.
“[Howard] Thurman says that many of the things we ask for in our praying … will never happen,” she said. “But what we can be assured of is that God will always speak to us. God will always answer the pray-er … What a great promise, that we will not be ignored … that this is encounter with the Holy will be responded to.”
The service also featured collects, intercessions, and litanies written by graduating students. The baccalaureate service leaflet is available for download on the CDSP website.
Although it took place on video, the format and script for commencement were nearly identical to those of past years. The ceremony began with remarks from the Very Rev. W. Mark Richardson, PhD, president and dean, who set the Church’s response to pandemic in the wider context of mission and ministry in a changing world.
“This convulsive experience has brought us to our roots,” he said, “opening the door to awakenings we might not have experienced otherwise, seeing with new eyes what it means to live out and support others in their baptismal vows, and imagining new possibilities of becoming people of God more faithfully, honestly, and courageously.”
The theme of responding authentically and nimbly to God’s call to mission also echoed through the commencement address, offered jointly by the Rt. Rev. Diane Jardine Bruce, bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, and the Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves, managing director of the College for Bishops.
“We need leadership in the church, clergy and lay leaders, that can exegete a neighborhood as well as they can exegete a biblical text,” Bruce said. Referencing the pair’s chosen scripture text, the healings of the woman with hemorrhages and the daughter of synagogue leader Jairus, she added, “That’s exactly what Jesus was doing. He was out looking at the need in the community … and that’s where he shared his power.”
Gray-Reeves discussed a similar lesson of openness and awareness. She advised graduates to be prepared for the continuing discomfort of learning as they serve faith communities in new ways.
“Plan to be unexpectedly wrong, to be unusually uncomfortable, and to be reflective quietly,” she said. “Those three things … are a challenge for us in the church as we go out and be in the crowd. It will be unpredictable. Things will happen we cannot possibly anticipate. To go with that is to move with the healing energy of Jesus in our midst.”
Bruce and Gray-Reeves also received honorary doctorates. They were honored along with five student recipients of special awards and scholarships and twenty graduates from four CDSP degree programs and one joint program with the GTU.
“Members of the graduating class, we find you ready for the innovation and challenge we have named today, ready for a new era of the apostolic moment of going forth in the name of Jesus Christ, led by the Spirit,” Richardson said.
The pre-recorded commencement video was a co-production of CDSP and Trinity Church Wall Street. Three musical selections, including school hymn “O Wisdom From On High,” came from a recently discovered archival recording of Richardson’s 2010 installation. The service will be available for on-demand replay through July 31 at cdsp.edu/commencement.
2021 Award & Scholarship Recipients
- The Right Rev. Richard Millard Prize for Excellence in Preaching: William Smith Bryant
- The Fran Toy Prize for Multicultural Ministry at a Field Education Site: Peter J. Vazquez Schmitt
- Episcopal Preaching Foundation Award: Joanna Elizabeth Benskin
- Lawrence Kristin Mikkelsen Preaching Scholarship: Jennifer Crompton (Class of 2022)
- Kellor Smith Scholarship for Youth Ministry: Sara Yoe (Class of 2022)
Church Divinity School Class of 2021
- Joanna Elizabeth Benskin (Master of Divinity)
- Evan Herbert Britton (Master of Theological Studies)
- William Smith Bryant (Master of Divinity)
- Brian Poul Cleary (Master of Divinity)
- Katherine Lois McCarthy-Evenbeck (Master of Divinity)
- Kathy Ellen Lawler (Master of Divinity)
- Anton Faynberg (Master of Theological Studies)
- Myrna Louise Koonce (Master of Theological Studies)
- Thomas Ethan Lowery (Master of Arts)
- Daniel McMillan (Certificate of Anglican Studies)
- Yuki Faith Moore (Master of Theological Studies)
- Laura J. Osborne (Master of Divinity)
- SuEllen Johnson Pommier (Master of Divinity)
- Dawn Marie Reynolds (Certificate of Theological Studies)
- Debra Geller Rhodes (Master of Divinity)
- Patricia Marie Rose (Master of Divinity)
- Peter J. Vazquez Schmitt (Master of Theological Studies)
- Elizabeth Erringer Sims (Master of Theological Studies)
- Jana Patrice Sundin (Master of Theological Studies)
- Robin Woodberry (Certificate of Anglican Studies)