Founding dean challenges Divinity graduates to trust “big promises”

Dr Cogdill at his last commencement (retiring after 36 years) at the podium in Butler Chapel

Michael Codgill, founding dean of the Divinity School and professor of pastoral leadership, concluded 36 years of service to Campbell University at this evening’s Divinity School commencement ceremony.

Six Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, 33 Master of Divinity and three Doctor of Ministry degrees were conferred in Butler Chapel. Codgill used his time as commencement speaker to challenge students to strive for their best and assure them that, like him, even after they leave, Campbell will always be home.

“When you get a chance to preach, bring it!” he said. “When you get a chance to proclaim the gospel, shuck the corn. And wherever you serve, build people up. May God reward you with a rich ministerial life. Know I will always hold you in my heart.”

Cogdill gave the graduates and their families three biblical examples to consider during this time of transition: Abram, who was called to leave the familiar landscape of his country, Samuel, who was called to listen, and Paul, who was made a herald to share the gospel far and wide. Their situations were vastly different, but all three men received promises from God that they had to trust.

“Every one of you shares in common a divine call in God, but after that you’re individuals. Some will be called to be good pastors and preach, some to missions and some to lift anthems to God and keep the church singing. Some of you want to see faith come alive in nontraditional places. Still others are called to become counselors and chaplains. Some of you care for the children of this world, and others feel called to care for the least of these,” Cogdill said. “My hope for you is that you will fulfill the necessity that is laid upon your heart and that you will enjoy the journey that you’re about to embark on.”

Master of Arts in Christian Ministry graduate Ranhee Han feels sure that her necessity and calling is to lead churches in worship. Originally from Korea, Han attended the prestigious Korean Seoul National University and a earned master’s degree in music at the University of Cincinnati before coming to Campbell Divinity. Its proximity to Fort Bragg, her husband’s workplace, is what brought Han to Buies Creek, but the environment of genuine care and support is what kept her engaged.

“The atmosphere on campus in Korea is quite different. Always competing— ‘I have to win this thing,’ or ‘I have to beat my friend. I have to hide everything so they don’t know what I’m doing to be successful.’  It was tiring and very lonely,” remembered Han.

During bouts of homesickness or times when her husband was in the field, Han says she prayed to God to ask that if anything tragic was going to happen, particularly to her husband in his line of work, that it would happen now — while she was at Campbell— so that her Campbell family would be with her to support her.

“My parents are not Christians. It is difficult to share the hardships of life and my faith with my parents when they don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to be a doctor, a professor or something more secure.”

Her parents’ disapproval of her career choice did not held Han back when it came to using her gift for music to live out her faith. She has taught piano, cello and bass at Campbell and served multiple churches as an accompanist. Han hopes that her calling will take her to places in need of musicians as she and her husband travel the country.

“It’s my calling. Many churches where I am have less than 50 members, and they don’t have a pianist or a worship leader, and often I struggle with that. But I know that whether I play piano for a small church or lead worship in a big church, either way God is pleased.”

Leslie Sessoms’ newly acquired Doctor of Ministry degree is just the cherry on top of her years of experience in youth ministry. She has served as a youth ministry leader for 23 years, using her background in elementary education to guide her. Ten years later, she returned to Campbell for her doctorate.

“I went back because I was called to. I truly felt I needed to. I thought I had gone as far as I could go in youth ministry without a formal theological foundation and a chance to find out what I really believed,” Sessoms said. “Campbell allowed me to rebuild my faith and examine everything I had ever questioned to come to my own conclusions.”

Sessoms believes that her family’s patience as she continued her education was a definitely a gift from God. Her two children, aged 30 and 25, encouraged her to take the leap and take the opportunity to explore her faith as she pursued her doctorate.

“What I like about Campbell is that I wasn’t told what to believe, but encouraged to wrestle with my faith and interpretation of scripture. I took that to heart and put it into practice with my own students. I want their faith to grow, and that means being open to hearing other voices and interpretations. We learn best in community, and that’s what I found at Campbell.”