LSTC Celebrates 163rd Commencement with a Message of Hope for the Future

A commencement procession outside of LSTC's building

On Sunday, May 21, 2023, LSTC candidates for the certificate in Theological Education for Emerging Ministries, the Master of Arts degrees, Master of Divinity degrees, and Doctoral degrees processed for the last time past the building at 1100 E. 55th Street, the building that has been LSTC’s home for decades. It was a commencement journey laden with emotion: next year the procession will be starting from LSTC’s new home on the fourth floor of Catholic Theological Union. However, this moment also marked collective triumphant joy for those members of our community who have been called into the world to act as transformative agents of justice in our changing Church and world. 

That calling was affirmed by the commencement speaker, Sr. Barbara E. Reid, O.P., President of Catholic Theological Union and Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies, who called the event “a historic moment [marked by] LSTC and CTU taking a new step to deepen our longstanding ties as we will soon share a common campus and find many more ways to collaborate.” 

In her commencement address, “Hewing Stones of Hope from Mountains of Despair: the Call of Ministers of the Gospel,” President Reid acknowledged the difficulties that we face in our contemporary church and world, difficulties that stretch back in time to other historical inflection points including those faced by leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., times marked by the violence of racism, the despair that characterizes privation and acute material scarcity, the loneliness that attends the lives of those experiencing mental illness and suffering from the illness of addiction. These are, as President Reid noted, significant obstacles. The question becomes, “What are ministers of the good news to do in the face of mountains of despair?”

The problems of this world, the problems that LSTC graduates will encounter in and outside the context of their ministries may seem at times overwhelming. “It was Dr. King’s conviction was that the way to deal with a mountain of despair was to hew stones of hope,” President Reid offered. It’s a beautiful sentiment, one that evokes big emotions—and perhaps big questions, too.

How does one go about this task, this Sisyphean undertaking? How do you take pain and transform it first into potential and then again into the realized vision of God’s hope for humanity? President Reid suggests that we all embrace the way of the artist, the sculptor who works in stone to realize potential and share greatness with the wider world. 

“When you approach a fresh block of stone you don’t come with your plan and then chip away forcing the stone to become whatever you want it to be,” President Reid noted, citing a good friend of hers who works as a sculptor. “Rather, the shape inside reveals itself to the artist, who helps it emerge. As God’s artisans, what we do is help God’s dream to emerge from the mountains of despair: God’s dream of life to the full for all, costly freedom for every person and every living being in the cosmos to become fully what God desires.”

The LSTC class of 2023 is already well on their way to realizing this work; academically, liturgically, and in their collective actions aimed at creating a more just world. Several remarkable graduating scholars were honored at the ceremony: Katie Linthicum was honored with the Edgar Krentz Prize for Greek Exegesis for her paper, “Anointing with Abundance: John 12:1-8;” Gail Kenny and Katie Mueller were honored with the James Kenneth Echols Prize for Excellence in Preaching; Juan Manuel Perea was honored with the Lutheran Confessions Award for his paper, “The Lost Sacrament of Lutheranism: Private Confession;” and four students were honored for The Bible and Lutheran Faith Prize. These were: Char Laywa for the paper “Healing: A Divine Tool for Inclusion;” Melissa Daily for the paper “Following Jesus’ Command: Loving Our Neighbor;” Krystle Moraska for the paper “Becoming Something New Together: A Breastfeeding Hermeneutic” and Annelisa Burns for the paper “The Curse of Eve.” These students, through their academic and liturgical interventions represent the deep commitment that the class of 2023 has to research, justice, and community building in faith.

The dedication to justice is one embraced by the entire class of 2023, as evidenced by the remarkable class gift, presented by Kyle Duff and Kelsey Johnson: a financial campaign of seed money to support the institutional commitment to offering reparations for those harmed by historical actions rooted in institutional racism. As Kyle Duff noted in his introduction, “We saw this time of deep institutional transition as an opportunity to care for our wider community and begin a larger project that engages in the call to be a public facing church. Our scriptures and faith tradition teach us that God calls us to live justly and righteously with our neighbors and all of creation, and that when we fail to live this way and instead cause harm, we must offer repentance and seek repair and reconciliation.” LSTC shares the class of 2023’s enthusiasm for and dedication to righting historical wrongs. You can see more about LSTC’s commitment to this work and contribute to the fund on the LSTC Reparations Website

As Kelsey Johnson noted, “In raising these funds, our class hopes to encourage and partner with this larger institutional call to attempt to repair and make just relationships with our BIPOC neighbors in the surrounding community leading towards repentance and reconciliation… We believe that this is part of what it means to be people of faith and embodies the principles of public church.” This gift represents the class of 2023’s dedication to justice and belief in the promise of restorative work on behalf of LSTC and our larger community.

Though it remains bittersweet to see the graduates of LSTC’s class of 2023 embark on their new adventures, we rejoice in the ways in which they have enriched the lives of all those they encountered during their time on campus. As LSTC President James Nieman said, “Now we mark the commencement of your new callings during a time of thanksgiving to the God who draws us all into deeper discipleship. Thank you for enriching our community.”
You are invited to view photos of this year’s commencement here, and you can view the ceremony on LSTC’s commencement website.

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