More than 200 students received degrees during the ceremony in a packed Leavell Chapel on the seminary campus. The seminary also saw its largest ever class of doctoral students, conferring three doctor of educational ministry, 23 doctor of ministry and three doctor of philosophy degrees.
And while students and their friends and family gathered to celebrate a significant milestone in their life of ministry, Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Seminary, challenged the graduates to maintain their focus and intensity as they leave seminary life.
"This is a world filled with anxiety and uncertainty," Kelley told the graduates in December.
From economic uncertainty and violence taking many communities captive to a depressed job market and many churches caught in a downward spiral, graduates now entering the "real world" face not only challenges but also opportunities.
"I guess from the perspective of those called to ministry, you can call that 'job security,'" Kelley said. "There is a lot to do."
In the face of some trying challenges, Kelley pointed graduates to the end of the story for encouragement.
"Are you ready for some good news? Here's what we know from Scripture," Kelley said. "Habbakuk 2:14, 'For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.' Last time I checked, that was pretty thorough. The water was just about all over the sea."
Kelley also quoted Philippians 2:5-11, which concludes, "For this reason also, God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
"As we go out and face all of these difficulties ... we know the end of the story," Kelley said. "We know that in the midst of our part of the story, God will prevail. God will provide. God will nurture. God will draw us ever closer to His heart. Now that's what I call good news."
But knowing the end of the story, Kelley noted, leaves an obvious question for the present: "So what's our part in God getting His work done?"
To answer that question, Kelley turned his attention to a pair of yellow rubber work boots conspicuously displayed at the center of the Leavell Chapel stage and to the story of Australian potato farmer and long-distance runner Cliff Young.
Young burst on the running scene in 1983 when he, at age 61, entered an ultra marathon race that spanned the 543.7 miles between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. The Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon was held for nine years and was widely considered the most grueling race in the world.
"The world-class athletes were milling around, getting ready to start the race, and a guy steps out of the crowd wearing overalls and work boots," Kelley said. "They said, 'What are you doing?' And he said, 'I'm entering the race.' They laughed and thought he was joking. He was a potato farmer and he came to run in overalls and work boots. They said, 'What are you going to do?' He said, 'Finish.'"
When the race started, the professional runners took off, with Young shuffling behind. His awkward running style became known as the "Cliff Young Shuffle." For the professional runners, the strategy was to run 18 hours and sleep six. Young had a different plan of action.
"He never stopped. He ran for more than five days without ever stopping to sleep. He kept running," Kelley said.
Young finished the race in five days, 15 hours and four minutes. His nearest competitor crossed the finish line 10 hours later. Young was surprised to learn that winning the race earned him $10,000 in prize money, but he insisted the prize money was not his motivation for running. To demonstrate that, he gave $2,000 to each of the next five runners who finished behind him.
At the end of the race, Young was asked, "What was the secret of your success?" He answered, "You just keep going."
Kelley voiced that challenge to the graduates.
"Everything that we've been trying to teach you all these years boils down to that one simple strategy: Just keep going," Kelley said. "So my last words to you are, 'On you mark, get set, go! And don't stop."
Frank Michael McCormack writes for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
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