BUIES CREEK, North Carolina – Ministry is not easy. In fact, it is a struggle, said Campbell University Divinity School Dean Andy Wakefield in the Charge to the Graduates he delivered to the 36 Campbell Divinity students who received their degrees during a commencement ceremony Friday night, May 13, in Turner Auditorium.
There will be conflicts, disagreements, and divisions; there will be 18 funerals in a four-month span and other tragedies after tragedies; and there will be attacks on identity and emotions and other intangibles.
“It seems to me that ministry, more than perhaps any other profession, offers this dilemma: How do we as ministers care without being consumed? How are we able to be transparent without being trampled on? How do we absorb all the pain and fear and anger and sins with the people that we minister to without dissolving into despair or desperation?” Wakefield said.
“We are called, graduates, to struggle.”
How can graduating students prepare for the struggle? Wakefield encouraged them to heed the advice Paul gave in Ephesians 6:10-17.
“When you face the struggles that lie ahead, Campbell Divinity graduates,” Wakefield said, “put on the armor of God and take up the mantle.” Also arm yourselves with a tangible reminder of that armor, he added. A possible tangible reminder? Their academic hoods.
Before receiving their degrees, each of the 36 graduating students received an academic hood. The hood represents the degrees the students earned, their discipline of study, and the school that awarded their degrees.
The hood “represents the mantle we’re passing on to you and the mantle that you are taking up,” Wakefield said. “Let the experience of receiving the hood be an act of receiving and taking on the role that God has called you to.”
Below is a look at three of the Campbell Divinity students who graduated May 13. In all, three students received their Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, 30 their Master of Divinity, and three their Doctor of Ministry degrees.
Kendra N. Sumler ’16 MDIV: Everything we do at Campbell Divinity is about ministry
Degree | Master of Divinity
Hometown | Raeford, North Carolina
Undergraduate College | Fayetteville State University
The Campbell University Divinity School has prepared Kendra Sumler well for her next stop: a residency chaplaincy at UNC Hospital, she said.
She received a solid Bible-based, Christ-centered, and ministry-focused theological education. She completed her clinical pastoral education at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Southern Pines. And she built relationships that make for more than just a network but a family.
As she prepared to serve in a ministry of chaplaincy and counseling during her time at Campbell Divinity, though, what prepared her the most was watching a classmate battle cancer.
“She was battling cancer and still took the time to get to know others, listen to what brought them here, show up, and support them when they were struggling,” Sumler said. “Everything we do at Campbell Divinity do is about ministry, and she showed how to do that and how to build bridges and communities.”
Sumler’s experiences at Campbell Divinity were also affirming, she said.
Since her early teens, she had been involved in ministry. She taught Sunday school; she sang with the praise and worship team; and she worked with the youth ministry. But she never thought about attending divinity school and entering the ministry full time.
After graduating from Fayetteville State University, she worked as an art teacher for a couple years. Then she worked as a publications coordinator at a church and later as an administrator at another one. She tried several other things, too, but nothing felt right or meaningful. There had to be something more, she told herself.
She spent time praying and fasting and asking God what to do. One day she was scrolling through Facebook when she came across a friend’s post about being a student at Campbell Divinity. Sumler was somewhat familiar with Campbell University, but she didn’t know there was a Campbell Divinity.
Sumler’s friend kept posting about her Campbell Divinity experiences. In time, Sumler gave her friend a call. Her friend told her that she was experiencing God in a way that she had never before.
Sumler met with the Campbell Divinity’s admissions director. “I got the sense this was where I needed to be,” Sumler said. “I’ll miss the classrooms. I’ll miss the books. I’ll miss studying. I’m miss reviewing papers together. I’ll miss eating together. Mostly I’ll miss the relationships.I’ve gained an extended family here. That is a springboard for what is to come.”
Lane and Susan Bass ‘16MDIV | Campbell Divinity is not just a school; it’s a community
Degree | Master of Divinity
Hometown | Union County, North Carolina
Undergraduate College | Wingate University
Degree | Master of Divinity
Hometown | Richlands, North Carolina
Undergraduate College | UNC-Chapel Hill
Two days after they both graduate from Campbell Divinity, Lane and Susan Bass will set off in an R.V. for Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota. The couple will spend the summer there serving with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (CNP).
The nonprofit places seminarians and college students in parks around country to do relational ministry with seasonal staff and lead weekly worship services.
“It’s an opportunity to do ministry in a non-traditional setting,” Susan said.
If they enjoy their summer experience, they’ll look at serving at another park and then perhaps another and another. Eventually, Lane imagines he’ll serve in a traditional congregational context, and Susan in a non-traditional context of ministry.
Wherever they end up, they said, Campbell Divinity will hold a special place in their heart. It’s where they met.
They shared a class together during their first semester at Campbell Divinity in the fall of 2012.
Susan wasn’t looking for a relationship, and Lane was a little shy. They started as friends.
One day Lane spotted Susan in the library looking confused at a stack of books. He asked her if she needed help. She said yes, he helped her, and they got dinner after. They married in December 2014.
“People make jokes about how many people meet their spouses here, and it is a great place to meet a spouse,” Susan said. “It was great to experience Campbell Divinity with him.”
They bounced ideas off each other, reflected on class discussions together, shared textbooks, and lifted each other up.
“Our whole relationship, from inception to engagement to marriage happened against the backdrop of Campbell Divinity, so it will necessarily always be an incredibly special place for us,” Lane said.
Campbell Divinity is also special because “it’s more than just a school,” Susan said. “It’s a community.”
Lane saw that community spirit during his first visit to Campbell Divinity. He had been accepted to his first choice for divinity school. But when he visited Campbell Divinity, he fell in love with it. The daughter of a Campbell graduate, Susan didn’t apply anywhere else.
“Everybody cares about you here,” Lane said. “Students, staff, and faculty are interested in far more than how you do as a student. They care about your whole life. You can expect people to show up at weddings and ordinations, you can expect prayers when things are difficult, you can expect questions about your family, friends, and jobs.”
The Campbell Divinity professors are ministers first, too, he added. “All understand that they are there to do something more than disseminate information. They know their role is to train ministers who are attentive to God’s call and willing and able to answer.”