BUIES CREEK, North Carolina – The Campbell University Divinity School honored 20 years of Christ-centered, Bible-based, and ministry-focused theological education at its annual convocation and commissioning ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 13. The ceremony included the recognition of more than 650 alumni, the pinning of 27 new students, and the celebration of the rich history of the school.
Dr. Michael Cogdill, the founding dean of Campbell Divinity and professor of pastoral leadership, shared with the incoming student body, their families and friends, and dozens of Campbell Divinity alumni in attendance the importance of the pin students received at the ceremony.
In his brief retelling of the founding of the school, Cogdill acknowledged the decision to adopt the Celtic cross as a symbol for Campbell Divinity was one of the most impactful decisions made. That symbol has been given to each member of the school in the form of a lapel pin over the past 20 years.
“The Celtic cross over the orb of the world was developed as our pin to accurately reflect our mission statement.”
Continuing with his message “Why I Wear This Pin,” Cogdill shared three reasons why he has worn his Campbell Divinity pin every weekday and every Sunday since September 1996: as a reminder of the commitment to the mission of the school to be Christ-centered, Bible-based and ministry focused; that he never knows what God has planned for him; and that Campbell Divinity stands on the shoulders of others who have gone before him.
“There’s work to do. It’s a great time to be a minister. There’s a lot of everything in the world – there’s a lot of sin, a lot of need, and a lot of opportunity. This is a wonderful time to be a minister.”
What God has in store for them
In his convocation address, Dr. Michael Cogdill urged students and alumni to be open to the opportunities that may arise during their course of study. Referencing the murderous threats from Saul who dramatically turns his life around and becomes Paul, the champion of the Gentiles and a disciple of Jesus, Cogdill pointed out that followers of Christ never know what God has in store for them.
“Who would have ever imagined a little small town boy from a little country Baptist church, would ever be the founding dean of a Divinity School? You just never know what God has in store for you.”
Here we take a glimpse into the lives of six Campbell Divinity students who never expected the plans God had for them.
Albert David Kirby, Jr. | Wake Forest University & Campbell Law School
It is not that Al Kirby is an unlikely candidate for the Master of Divinity degree at Campbell Divinity, it is just that his schedule seems a little full to be going back to school.
As a general practice attorney, Kirby owns the Kirby Law Firm where he provides legal services for residents of Clinton, North Carolina, and the greater Sampson County community.
“My call to ministry is very enigmatic,” he said. “From the time I was a little boy, my grandmother told me she thought God had called me to preach. She said she felt in her heart, but I just didn’t think about it very seriously.”
He started his college career playing football for Wake Forest and ended up at Campbell Law. He graduated in 1986 and has been practicing law in Sampson County ever since. What made him decide to return to Buies Creek 30 years later?
“For the last six years I would think about the conversations I had with my grandmother, including the time she told me that I might be a lawyer but God has other intentions for my life, and I would get really emotional and feel extremely happy.”
During one particular moment of reflection, Kirby remembers having to pull his car to the side of the road to praise the Lord with thankfulness. That’s when he realized maybe God was calling him into the ministry.
Now he finds himself back on main campus in Buies Creek once a week and thankful for the colleagues in his field who help him protect his time on class days.
“I’m learning in my classes that God calls on individuals in different ways, and I’m praying that God will lead and guide me to go where I am needed.”
Ranhee Han | Seoul National University & University of Cincinnati
English is not Ranhee Han’s native language; she is used to communicating through the notes of beautiful harmonies. A native of Seoul, South Korea, Han is a classically trained double bassist. She joined Campbell’s College of Arts & Sciences as a faculty member in the Department of Music when she moved to North Carolina with her husband in 2014.
A mere year later, Han was sidelined as a full-time musician due to the physical stress of playing her string instrument for hours a day and chronic neck pain that was the result of a severe car accident in 2008.
“Out of desperation, I started praying for guidance as to whether I was to continue a full-time career as a musician,” she said.
That answer came to her in the form of discovering Campbell Divinity’s concentration in church music and worship.
“The Lord led me to Campbell Divinity and its church music concentration for graduate students. Here, I can still continue to pursue my passion in music without the physical stress that is required for orchestra members,” she said.
Initially, she was very apprehensive before classes started because of the language barrier and her inexperience with theological study, but she stands affirmed in her decision thanks to the loving support of the Lord, her family, professors, and classmates, she said.
“I can walk this journey without fear.”
Leslie Sessoms | UNC-Pembroke & Campbell Divinity
One would think 20 years of serving as a youth minister is an education on its own. Not Leslie Sessoms, who returns Campbell Divinity this semester for the Doctor of Ministry program.
The mother of two began her career in education and taught for six years when her church offered her a job as a youth minister.
“At that time, I automatically thought ‘I can’t do that job!’, but I told them I would pray about it,” she said.
Those prayers led her to accepting the job and projected her onto a path of theological education she never saw coming. Ten years after accepting the position, she felt a call to return to school to explore her faith on a deeper level.
In 2007, she enrolled in the Master of Divinity program and completed it in 2011. During that time, her church in Lumberton, North Carolina, ordained her at the encouragement of the lead pastor.
“It opened up a new world for me. The experience showed me new ideas and ways to help my youth group learn how to ask tough questions and struggle with their faith so that it ultimately becomes their own faith. Not something that is spoon-fed to them.”
Her education helped her, along with the leaders of her church, reimagine her ministry.
“My ministry is changing. I used to plan lessons for Sundays and Wednesdays then find ways we could serve our actual church. Now, we are reaching out to our neighborhood.”
Reaching out to the changing Lumberton community has helped Sessoms adapt God’s message for the current generation. It is less about a structured Bible lesson and more about communicating Christ’s love through helping them find their way in life, deal with day-to-day challenges, and planning for their future.
Sessoms commemorated 20 years of serving her church’s youth ministry with a special worship service attended by alumni of her youth group this summer. Amber Johnson-Carter, a graduate of master of divinity at Campbell Divinity and a former member of Sessoms’ youth group, gave the sermon.
Ricky Lamm | North Carolina Wesleyan
Ricky Lamm has been solving problems his whole life. Serving organizations like Caterpillar, Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, and RLCB, Inc. (the former Raleigh Lions Clinic for the Blind) for the past 15 years, he thrives on taking difficult logistic scenarios and finding safe, accurate, and profitable solutions.
Reflecting on his past, he says he felt the call of God for the first time in 1992.
“I was going through a difficult period in my life, but God spoke to me through a song on the radio: ‘I’ve Got a Feeling (Everything’s Going to be Alright)’ by Walt Mills.”
Lamm listened to the song and prayed to God asking for confirmation that it was indeed a message from Him. After the final notes of the song, it started again from the beginning and Lamm knew it was a sign that his life would be OK as long as he trusted God.
From that moment on, he chased the American dream of career success and financial security raising five children and becoming a grandfather of nine in the process.
Then the financial crisis of 2008 happened. Lamm was laid off from his job at Caterpillar. With work being a driving force in his life, he didn’t know what was the next step in God’s plan for him.
After returning from a pre-planned vacation to Disney World with his family post-layoff, he felt God speaking to him again. This time it was in the form of a nudge to speak to groups of people who were struggling either financially or with work. He began speaking to churches about his faith and perseverance in the workplace.
Fast forward through a few mission trips, new jobs, and a battle with colon cancer, Lamm is now enrolled as a Master of Divinity student at Campbell Divinity School as a response to reccurring nudges from God to pursue a call to ministry.
“God has something more for me to do than make money for big companies,” he said.
And while he says part of him still wants to pursue financial security and the corporate dream, he’s got a feeling everything’s going to be alright.
Deborah Jodrey | Campbell University
Making a difference in the lives of others is what Deborah Jodrey wanted to do since she was 14 years old. Inner-city mission trips and teaching Bible school showed Jodrey that her true passion was helping others.
Jodrey enrolled at Campbell University after high school to pursue a degree in criminal justice thinking it would be a perfect fit for helping others through the American justice system. Two semesters and an international mission trip later, she realized God was calling her to study religion instead.
“Growing up in a conservative home, I felt conflicted by this call. It went against everything that I had been taught about the roles of women in the church. Women were Bible school teachers and served in the nursery, they didn’t study religion,” said Jodrey.
Instead she changed her major to social work, but found herself restless after a semester. The practice of distancing oneself from the situation didn’t mesh with her personality. In a sense, she wanted to be on the ground with people helping them through the messy situations of life, not building boundaries.
After a lengthy discussion with her parents, she completed her undergraduate degree in Christian Studies and found her stride in studying theology, church history, and ethics. It was in that program that she grew in her faith and discovered that God can call anyone, no matter their gender or background, into the ministry.
“The journey of my undergraduate degree was really a time of growth and figuring out where my call really was leading me. And realizing that there is no limit and no cap to what women can do in ministry.”
Michael Rudisill | Campbell University
Growing up in the Methodist church, Michael Rudisill says his favorite part of going to church was the social aspect. By eighth grade, his concern for the church was replaced by friends, his social life, and sports.
It’s not that he did not believe, but he says he was trying to find where God wanted him to be while also questioning whether God existed. This intellectual approach to life provided a swift avenue to prioritizing football and his success on the field over his spiritual life.
What he didn’t expect was his social life to let him down.
“I formulated all of my beliefs, all of my faith, and I surrounded and built a house around football and my social life,” he said. “I created something that could not withstand and bear the pressure of the stress of life.”
This idolatry of football began a spiral of health problems including a bout with obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. By the time he accomplished his dream of playing college football, he found himself depressed and lost at Appalachian State University.
Knowing he needed a change in scenery, he called his high school coach from Boone to ask about other football programs in the state. Campbell was the third card in the stack of business cards his coach read out to him from his desk.
His successful transfer to Campbell involved more than just a new football uniform; the experience transformed his life.
“God introduced some amazing people in my life at Campbell. Two of them were my roommates. One was a pastor’s son, and the other was the happiest person I had ever met. They showed me what it was like to walk in faith, to walk in joy, to walk in peace. Those two individuals encouraged me to really investigate life as a Christian.”
Now Rudisill is pursuing his Master of Divinity degree while serving as the chaplain and a mentor for the Fighting Camels football team.