By Susan Shinn
For the Salisbury Post
Hood Theological Seminary on Saturday morning hosted an event that was part graduation exercise, part church service and part tent revival.
“That’s exactly right!” an ebullient Bishop George Battle, the day’s commencement speaker, said afterward.
At the end of the day, the seminary’s 51 graduates could breathe a collective sigh of relief, according to Battle. “Though I join you in your joy, it is my unpleasant task to inform all of you, it is not finished! The real work has just started.”
Speaking beneath an enormous white tent, Battle based his remarks on Acts 17:6, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.”
Battle urged the graduates to get to know their congregations.
“How can you preach and teach to people you do not know?” he said.
He told the story of a surgeon who gave his own blood to help a young patient. “As you go out into the vineyard, get ready to remove your robe. Prepare yourself to take off your clergy collar … People are in need of what only we can offer, to give of ourselves what God has given us.”
Battle also spoke of a pastor who preached at a large country church, who tried to impress a well-dressed guest.
“An old lady with a stick came up to him afterward and said, ‘Us didn’t understand nuthin’ you said.’ Don’t try to impress people. Let God be your guide. If you let God be your leader with your education, you can turn this world upside down.”
The ceremonies took on the flavor of a tent revival with loud applause, and murmurs of “All right!” and “Amen!” as Battle preached on.
He continued, “Don’t preach for nobody but God. When you let God give you your anointing, I declare your church will grow, your Sunday school classes will grow, your Christian education department will grow. You will know it’s not by your own might, it’s by the might of God. Don’t let this degree cause you to lose your mind. Use this degree to know you are not finished.”
Degrees were conferred on candidates for doctor of ministry, master of divinity, master of theological studies, as well as the diploma in Christian ministry. Honorary doctorates were bestowed on Battle and Bishop Preston Warren Williams II.
Margaret Kluttz, the school’s development officer, announced a $50,000 donation by the family of the late Bishop Alfred Edward White, endowing a heritage lecture series in his name.
Aymer, echoing the actions of many of the graduates as they received their degrees moments before, held an oversized check over his head and said, “Thank you, Jesus!” Aymer and Bishop Richard Thompson, chairman of the board, both made unabashed appeals for further contributions to Hood.
Thompson recognized Aymer for his 50 years in ordained ministry, presenting him with a handsome clock.
“President Aymer is a good and noble man,” he said. “We find we cannot do enough for him.”
Aymer said that work was not a new thing to him, recalling he had preached five sermons a day while a pastor in the Caribbean. He is a native of Antigua in the West Indies.
“I pray to God to continue my ability to serve until he calls me to the other side,” he said.
As the ceremonies concluded, there was plenty of time for photographs of graduates with family and friends. The Rev. Gregg Plott stood with his family in front of a huge fountain in the Hood courtyard. Plott, who pastors three churches for the United Methodist Church in Ashe County, came to Hood eight years ago to receive his degree. He is a four-year cancer survivor.
“It’s been a long path but a great path,” he said. Plott’s senior pastor at his home church recommended Hood. “He said, if you want a well-rounded education, and you want to be a good preacher, a good pastor, a good leader and a good administrator, go to Hood.”
The Rev. Dwight “DB” Cannon of Goldsboro received the President’s Award and was chosen as cross bearer in the processional.
“And I’m magna cum laude, thank you, Lord!” he said beforehand.
“He’s just beloved by everyone,” Kluttz said.
After the ceremonies, Cannon said he’d been pastoring for 32 years, getting his first church at age 14.
“I was in the mission field when I should have been in seminary,” said Cannon, who served in South Africa for seven years. He returned stateside in 2004 and came to Hood in 2009. He serves St. James AME Zion Church in Goldsboro.
“I want to offer myself as a bishop to this church,” he said. “This is the final step.”
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.
By Susan Shinn