Worth the wait

Item by Laura Lehman Amstutz

For John M. Stoltzfus of Stuarts Draft, it was his first commencement ever. Growing up in the Amish Mennonite church in Pennsylvania, he had finished his formal schooling with the eighth grade.

On Saturday, Stoltzfus was a member of the Eastern Mennonite Seminary graduating class of 2008.

“Everyone says that graduation is a big deal,” said Stoltzfus. “But I had nothing to compare it to.”

Stoltzfus and six others received master of arts in church leadership degrees during the seminary’s 59th annual commencement. Fifteen of Stoltzfus’ classmates received three-year master of divinity degrees. Two students received master of arts in religion degrees, and six were awarded certificates.

“For me, this is a dream come true,” said Stoltzfus. “I lived with a sense of call to ministry for a very long time but never thought I’d see it happen.

“And now, to be graduating and to feel like I’m equipped for ministry bring a tremendous sense of satisfaction,” he continued.

Stoltzfus received his GED diploma in 2005 and intended to go to nursing school, only to have the classes canceled.

“I knew that that was God telling me that I was still supposed to go into some form of ministry preparation,” said Stoltzfus.

He entered EMS in 2006 at age 46 as a certificate student. A certain number of students without undergraduate education are allowed to enter the certificate program every year. If students are in good academic standing at the end of that year, they are eligible to enter any degree program except the master of arts in religion. Stoltzfus was one such student.

“I want you to imagine a fence post,” Stoltzfus told the audience at the seminary baccalaureate service on Friday evening.

“Now imagine a turtle on top of that fence post,” he continued. “I am like that turtle. I didn’t get here all by myself.”

During the baccalaureate service, Stoltzfus and many of his classmates thanked family, friends and faculty for encouraging them and helping them through their seminary years. He is exploring several options and hopes to have a placement by the end of the summer.

The class chose the theme, “Spirit Gathered. Spirit Sent,” as its motto.

“The Spirit is not as tame as our well chosen words imply,” said class president Jonathan Bowman, a master of divinity graduate. “The Spirit is a rushing wind that leaves life in seeming disarray. The Spirit messes with our best-laid plans, befuddles our certainties and often renders the future unclear.

“As we marvel at how the Spirit gathered us to learn and grow, how God has worked among us, and as we look to the future, we can pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit,’ continue leading us, conform our will to your own,” Bowman said.

Commencement speaker Marva Dawn encouraged the class to hold on to disciplines that equip them for ministry. A renowned speaker and author, she is most notably associated with the parachurch organization, “Christians Equipped for Ministry.”

“Often Christians don’t look enough like Jesus for the world to revile us,” said Dr. Dawn, basing her comments on 1 Peter 4:7-14.

“If we are equipped by the Spirit, it will make us odd,” she declared. Dawn encouraged the graduates to keep the Sabbath, practice hospitality and speak of love and forgiveness.

“Have God on the tip of your tongue,” she said. “so that God might slip out easily. No ministry will truly happen unless we get out of the way and trust God to speak through us.”

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