In her commencement address to Campbell Divinity School graduates Friday night in the Hobson Performance Center, the Rev. Dr. Andrea Dellinger Jones shared the story of an unruly plant that grew outside of her kitchen window when she and her husband lived in Athens, Georgia, several years ago.
Jones, the senior pastor at Millbrook Baptist Church in Raleigh who has taught courses at both Campbell and Duke University during her career, recalled the plant being big, green and tropical, “with a flower on top that looked somewhat like a bird and somewhat like a pineapple.” Pretty at first, the plant became something from “Little Shop of Horrors,” growing uncontrollably and returning despite their best efforts to trim it back regularly.
Finally, Jones and her husband found the root of the problem, so to speak — a soccer ball-sized bulb they removed much to their joy. Instead of discarding it, however, Jones tossed it in the nearby woods, and a few days later, the plant had grown taller than her, topped with a flower that resembled a bird and a pineapple.
“That’s the reign of God for you,” Jones said in her sermon, titled, “This Work Will Grow on You.” “It’s just going to grow somewhere, somehow. There’s no use wringing your hands over it. Just live your calling and look for the budding kingdom. Then be delighted anywhere you see it surface.”
Jones’ often animated storytelling preceded the conferring of degrees to 34 students Friday night — 10 Master of Arts in Faith and Leadership Formation degrees, two Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, 15 Master of Divinity and seven Doctor of Ministry degrees.
The ceremony also saw the first recipient of the Russell T. Cherry Biblical Studies Award, given to the Rev. Jessica McDougald, a Master of Divinity graduate from Raleigh. Named for the former pastor at First Baptist Church in Lumberton and former Campbell University trustee, the award was presented to McDougald, a youth minister at Jones’ church.
“Jessica has blessed this school with here winsome spirit, her passion for excellence and her love for learning,” Divinity School Dean Dr. Andrew Wakefield said.
Wakefield welcomed the students and their families at the beginning of the service, held in person in D. Rich for the first time since 2019 (2020’s ceremony was canceled for COVID-19, and 2021’s ceremony was held outdoors).
“It feels so new, yet it feels so familiar,” Wakefield said on the Hobson Performance Center stage. “Today is a chance to celebrate, to worship together, to affirm and bless a wonderful journey of growth and transformation for our students.”
President J. Bradley Creed, attending the fourth of five ceremonies over the course of three days, said the divinity commencement is always a special event for him.
“I like divinity graduations, you get to sing hymns — and all five verses of a hymn,” Creed joked. “As far as I’m concerned, you can’t have a university without a divinity school or a seminary. I’ve served three fine institutions in my 30 years of higher education, and each one has had a divinity school or seminary. And they’ve each had a law school. These professions, disciplines and callings are ways to answer the call of God — to do good in the world, to add to human flourishing and seek the peace only God can give through Jesus Christ.”
Jones ended her address on the theme of growth.
“For those who have ears to hear, let them hear that we are witnesses of God’s reign, not the primary agents of its growth,” she said. “We tend to the garden that God is growing, and it will grow somewhere, somehow. Don’t lose sleep over it. Just work in it. Then thank God alone for any fruit you may find.”