Aymer says goodbye at Hood

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 12, 2013

SALISBURY — Known for being long-winded at times, Dr. Albert J.D. Aymer, president of Hood Theological Seminary, was teasing Saturday when he said he was going to “inflict” the commencement speaker on the audience.
You see, the commencement speaker was his scholarly daughter, Dr. Margaret P. Aymer.
But if any inflicting was done Saturday, it was by Margaret Aymer, who left the seminary graduates with a clear, rousing message.
Even though this glorious day of diplomas, friends, family, celebrations, dinners and photographs all centered on them, “the truth, the Gospel truth,” Margaret Aymer said, “is that it’s not about you.
“… This journey of faith must include you, but it’s not about you.”
Rather, Margaret Aymer said, it starts with whom they know, meaning it starts with Jesus, and the subject of their ministry must be the triune God; the object, the whole world.
Their ministries may take them to death row, Hell’s Kitchen, board rooms, the country, cities, suburbs and foreign lands, Aymer said, but their ministries cannot be about them — it must be characterized by the love of God.
“You are sales, you are not management,” she said.
Under tents on the grounds of its campus off Interstate 85, Hood Theological Seminary conferred Saturday nine doctor of ministry degrees, 42 master of divinity degrees and one master of theological studies degree.
Reflecting the diversity at Hood, the denominations represented by the graduates Saturday included African Methodist Episcopal Zion, United Methodist, North American Lutheran, Baptist, Church of God, Missionary Baptist, United Church of Christ, Holiness and non-denominational.
As important as the graduations were, the seminary also announced Saturday significant changes in its administration and staff.
As reported earlier, Dr. Albert Aymer is retiring after 19 years of incredible transformation at Hood. Saturday, the Board of Trustees named him president emeritus, capping off a week of celebrations of Aymer’s tenure as dean and president.
It started last Sunday on the Livingstone College campus with a reception in his honor given by Hood students and alumni. It continued with a tribute dinner Thursday night in Lewis Hall at First Presbyterian Church, and it was capped off by more accolades Saturday and the thrill of having his eldest daughter as commencement speaker.
In every location, Aymer received praise for his building of the seminary’s faculty, staff, enrollment and donor base and doing it in a fiscally responsible way, with much good humor and friendship thrown in.
“I appreciate all that,” Aymer said, “but no one person could do it. It takes a lot of people to do it.”
Bishop Richard K. Thompson, chairman of the trustees since 2005, said the 75-year-old Aymer is a man who believes in being busy, and he predicted something or somebody else will be calling him into service.
Trustee Charles Davidson of Charlotte echoed those thoughts.
“Do we really believe Dr. Aymer is going to retire?” he asked.
Technically, Aymer’s retirement will come June 30, 2014, as he spends the next year on a sabbatical rounding out his years at Hood at an even 20. The trustees presented Aymer with a check Saturday to do with as he pleases in his retirement.
Meanwhile, the trustees also announced their appointment of Aymer’s successor as president and chief executive officer — Dr. Vergel L. Lattimore, who had been vice president of academic affairs and professor of pastoral psychology.
Lattimore earned his doctorate at Northwestern University, his master of divinity at Duke University and his bachelor’s degree at Livingstone College. Aymer recruited him back to Salisbury.
Lattimore promised Saturday he would take Hood “to the other side of the mountain.”
“I know Dr. Lattimore will not fail us,” Thompson said.
The trustees also confirmed Dr. Trevor Eppehimer, associate professor of systematic theology, as Hood’s new academic dean.
Dr. Albert Aymer took time to recognize a colleague who has been at Hood almost as long as he has. His first hire almost 19 years ago was the Rev. Cynthia D. Keever, who also will be retiring later this month and relocating.
Keever served as director of the seminary’s library. “We’re going to miss her tremendously,” Aymer said before presenting her an award.
Saturday’s proceedings also conferred honorary degrees on Bishop Thompson and Dr. Margaret Aymer.
A native of Kannapolis, Thompson is a graduate of both Livingstone College and Hood Theological Seminary. He studied further at San Francisco Theological Seminary, Wesley Theological Center in Washington, D.C., and St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo.
In his early days of ministry, he was pastor at churches in Catawba and Lincolnton and Oklahoma City, Okla. For 20 years, he was pastor of Trinity AME Zion in Washington before being elected to the episcopacy in July 1992.
Now he serves as bishop of the Mid-Atlantic II Episcopal District, which takes in the nation’s capital. He also serves on the board of Livingstone College.
Albert Aymer said his daughter, Margaret, learned to read by age 3. By age 7, when the Aymer family was living in Jamaica, she informed her father that she had read the Bible cover to cover.
Later on, Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Brown invited her to apply for her undergraduate studies, and she chose Harvard. She then went on to earn her master of divinity, master of philosophy and doctorate degrees from Union Theological Seminary in New York.
The author of many books and an ordained Presbyterian minister, Margaret Aymer today is associate professor of New Testament and area chairperson of biblical studies at the Interdenominational Theological Seminary in Atlanta.
“Talk about being my child,” Albert Aymer said, noting that his principal area of expertise also lies with the New Testament.
Margaret Aymer told the graduates Saturday that even the most well-known ministers — the ones with television shows, big cathedrals, high salaries, fancy cars and political friends in high places — face the same risks they will.
“The minute ministry becomes about them, they are no longer doing ministry,” Aymer said, adding that if the graduates make their future ministries all about themselves, “you are betraying your call and education here at Hood.”
Even when they are butting heads with their congregations and dealing with the stress, hurt, anger and exhaustion that comes with being a minister, Aymer said, the graduates must make sure God’s love underscores and characterizes their ministries,
And they must realize, as Jesus said, that the limit to God’s love is the world, or the cosmos.
With that in mind, Aymer added, there’s room for people of every race, class, language, gender, political persuasion and nation.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.