It’s often said that what makes Campbell unique is its family atmosphere. But the students of the Divinity School were challenged not to fall back on the comfortable and familiar, and to push themselves to follow God’s call after leaving the Campbell family.
Following God’s call — rather than the myriad of voices we are bombarded with daily — was the takeaway from Reverend Julie Pennington-Russell’s address, entitled “The Opinion Worth Listening To.” The senior pastor at First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C. addressed 25 students and their loved ones in Butler Chapel at Friday’s worship and commencement ceremony, encouraging them to let their faith define their identity.
“Only God tells you the whole truth about yourself,” said Pennington-Russell, “and it is this: That you are a wonderful mix of the fallen and the fabulous; that love created you good and sin broke you to pieces; and yet, while you sometimes forget God’s image stamped across your forehead, God never forgets. With a never-give-up-on-you-no-matter-what kind of love, he is calling you to remember who you are.”
Sharing stories from her first few years in ministry, Pennington-Russell advised students against stubbornly forging ahead with the practices and ideas that are most familiar to them. Instead, the graduates were invited to embrace the unknown and let God lead the way.
“You will learn as you step into churches that you will have to grapple with who the church is. What is their context? What is their history?” said Pennington-Russell. “Every church is like a precious field. Some pastors come and there’s a field that God has given them to tend and we take a backhoe, take off the topsoil, and plant what we want to plant. The most important thing is to come and love that new field just as it is.”
Four Doctor of Ministry candidates, three Master of Arts in Christian Ministry candidates, and 18 Master of Divinity candidates received their diplomas after the worship service. Kristi Moore, a Versailles, Indiana native, graduated with distinction from the Master of Divinity program and spoke to the close-knit nature of the Campbell community.
“This place is like a home,” said Moore. “Between the professors and staff and students, you don’t feel like you’re coming here to do something that’s really hard — you feel like you’re here just to do life alongside each other.”
Craig Robinson, who received his Master of Divinity degree from Campbell in 2011, now holds a Doctor of Ministry degree as well. The Dunn native thanked department faculty for his achievement.
“My chair and my field advisor really pushed me,” Robinson said. “I was ready to quit, actually — I didn’t graduate on time with my freshman class. But I’m here today, one semester later, and I’m so glad I had my field advisor telling me I could do it.”
Also among the 18 Master of Divinity students was Sheral Raines, a Spring Lake native who appreciated the divinity community’s willingness to listen with open hearts.
“It’s a diverse community of students,” said Raines, “which allows for different interpretations and opinions, and brings its own challenges and confirmations. I think that’s what everybody needs, especially in a ministerial calling. We won’t always be surrounded by people who think the same or feel the same, and sometimes we have different ways in which we arrive at those conclusions. But we all believe in the same tenants of faith.”