Hood Seminary graduates 52
By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — Asking God in prayer to “convict, convert and consecrate” those who gathered there, the faculty and staff of Hood Theological Seminary held commencement exercises Saturday.
The celebration, in hymns, prayers and words of wisdom, took place on the lawn behind the campus.
Twelve candidates received doctor of ministry degrees.
Thirty students received master of divinity degrees, and two were awarded the master’s degree in theological studies.
Eight received diplomas in Christian ministry.
With yells, party noisemakers and scattered shouts of “Alleluia!” from their loved ones and friends, the graduates went forward one by one to collect their certificates.
Bishop William Willimon of the United Methodist Church delivered the keynote address.
He reminded them of the divine call that led them from their different faith traditions to their course of study at Hood.
“Seminary was God’s idea before it was your idea,” Willimon said.
“It’s a great challenge, it’s a challenge when you look at the state of the world.”
He charged them to believe that their power in ministry is to bring change to the world, and to believe in themselves and their ability to be that force for change.
“You’re here in ministry because God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, put you here,” Willimon said.
President Albert J.D. Aymer led graduates in a pledge to devote themselves to prayer and devotion in study of the scriptures.
“You have passed through Hood, but you leave something of yourself here,” Aymer said.
“We are bonded together, and I hope you will never, ever forget that bonding.”
Aymer followed Willimon’s talk with big news for the seminary’s future.
“I’m pleased to announce this morning that, effective as of the new academic year, we will have eight endowed scholarships,” Aymer said.
New competitive awards include two scholarships for entering students — one funded by the Woodson Foundation of Salisbury and one endowed in honor of Bishop and Mrs. Richard Keith Thompson.
Aymer followed this announcement with another: the establishment of the school’s first endowed professorship.
“As of this fall … we will have a distinguished professorial chair named in honor of Bishop and Mrs. George E. Battle,” Aymer said.
The exact amount of the endowment wasn’t named, except to say that it exceeded $500,000.
Battle has long served as a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the denomination that sponsors Hood Theological Seminary.
“This is a very, very important day for me,” Battle said. “The A.M.E. Zion church has given me everything that I have.”
To the graduates, Battle said, “You’re not going to make it on your own. You’re going to need some help.”
And that help, he said, came to him from those who nurtured him in the church. He urged them to build friendships and support in their own careers.
Aymer announced that Dora Mbuwayesango, who will be promoted to the rank of full professor effective in July, will be the first holder of the Battle professorship.
Then there was another surprise for the professor.
Her brother, Dr. Bothwell Mbuwayesango, traveled from Zimbabwe to be with her, as a surprise, on the day of that announcement.
He works there as a pediatric surgeon.
“I feel humbled and shocked,” the professor known affectionately as “Dr. Dora” said after the commencement ceremony, her brother standing beside her and smiling.
For graduates, the task ahead will be to put to work the learning they’ve gained in their years at Hood.
Some will go into ministry. Others, including those receiving doctoral degrees, are already serving as pastors.
The audience included some who had traveled to see their ministers achieve the pinnacle of their educations.
“It’s just wonderful!” said Tamara Ingram, who received her master of divinity degree Saturday.
She’ll now return home to Greensboro where she will continue studying for the ministry in the United Methodist Church’s candidacy program.
“I found my call here (at Hood),” Ingram said. “Now, it’s been cemented.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.