On May 19, 2019, Meadville Lombard celebrated our 174th Commencement at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago.
The Rev. Dr. Lee Barker delivered the Commencement sermon, his last as the president of Meadville Lombard. His message to the new graduates was filled with wisdom and insights from over 40 years of his ministry, sending them forth out into the world that needs their leadership.
We awarded three Honorary Degrees: Doctor of Divinity to the Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder, Doctor of Divinity to the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, and Doctor of Humane Letter to Dr. Sharon Welch.
Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder, a San Francisco native, has served her call through prophetic action and ministry for justice for over thirty years. This call to “blend proclamation, worship, service, and advocacy on behalf of those most marginalized in church and in society” led to the founding of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in 1991. In 2003, Rev. Dr. Flunder was consecrated Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, a multi-denominational coalition of over 100 primarily African American Christian leaders and laity.
Rev. Dr. Flunder is on the Board of Starr King School for the Ministry and DEMOS and has taught at many theological schools. She is a graduate of the Certificate of Ministry and Master of Arts programs at Pacific School of Religion and received her Doctor of Ministry from San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is also an award-winning gospel music artist and author of Where the Edge Gathers: A Theology of Homiletic and Radical Inclusion.
The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray began her six-year term as president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in June 2017. As president of the Association, she is responsible for administering staff and programs that serve its more than 1,000 member congregations. She also acts as principal spokesperson and minister-at-large for the UUA. Susan brings a strong focus on mission and strategic planning to her leadership at the UUA.
Prior to her election, she served as Lead Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix, Arizona where she was a national voice for immigrant rights. Susan played a critical role in the long-term campaign to end the constitutional violations of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Susan is a life-long Unitarian Universalist with roots at Eliot Chapel in St. Louis, Missouri. She holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. Prior to ministry, Susan worked briefly in the field of genetic sequencing following her Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Dr. Sharon Welch is a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Humanist Studies and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Peace Ministry Network. She served as Provost and Professor of Religion and Society at Meadville Lombard for ten years.
She has held positions as Professor and Chair of Religious Studies, Professor of Women's and Gender Studies and Adjunct Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri from 1991-2007. She was assistant and then associate professor of Theology and Religion and Society at Harvard Divinity School from 1982 to 1991. While at the University of Missouri, Dr. Welch was a Senior Fellow in the Center for Religion, the Professions, and the Public, a project leader of the Ford-sponsored Difficult Dialogues Program, and co-chair of the MU Committee for the Scholarship of Multicultural Teaching and Learning.
Dr. Welch is the author of six books, a regular contributor to Tikkun magazine, and is the author of many articles.
Dr. Welch received numerous awards, many of which recognize her excellence in teaching. She was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology by Starr King School of the Ministry in May 2007.
Rev. Julie Taylor, Senior Director of Contextual Ministry and Affiliated Faculty, offered a Spoken Prayer:
“Spirit of life and death, endings and beginnings, God of many names but one abundant and transforming Love—we are thankful. These graduates have come a long way. The journey that is theological education is filled with challenges—intellectual, emotional, philosophical, spiritual and often physical challenges; and today we celebrate the well-earned rewards.
We are able to gather today because others came first. We offer gratitude and reverence for those who have come before, making a way. We give thanks for the professors, mentors and supervisors who have been so instrumental in these graduates’ formation and learning. We honor the families and friends of each one here; their contribution is incalculable. Our ministries did not start with us, nor will they end with us; we are but a part of this interdependent web.
As this day marks an ending that is a beginning, my prayer is for today, but also for tomorrow. Coursework may be finished, but the work has just begun. Spirit, as the reality of life and ministry and life while in ministry unfolds for these graduates, grant them wisdom and humility, patience and endurance, stillness and joy. Bring them good colleagues and remind them of balance. Broaden their sense of justice and love, let compassion and radical hospitality be the hallmark of their leadership. This world is in need; Spirit, may each one do their part to heal that which is broken.
We ask blessings for these graduates and for us all. In the name of all that is holy, blessed be and amen.”
Charge to the Graduates was given by two graduates in Class of 2019, Viola Abbitt and Greta Seidohl:
“As we say goodbye to the ritual of attending Meadville Lombard each year, whatever ministry you chose to have, remember to...
Keep Learning. An unimaginable amount of transformation has already taken place during our journey at Meadville Lombard. Now our teachers are changing—to the people and places our ministries will bring us—and the learning doesn’t end. We must keep an open mind and open heart to what new knowledge lies ahead.
Stay Connected. To each other, to the school, to everyone who has loved us into the people we are right now, and to all the people we will meet who will cause our ministries, whatever they are, to grow and flourish. We will be there to celebrate with each other, and also to keep each other accountable when we need to be reminded of our best selves.
Remember Our Call. Let us never forget the joy, the drive, the passion, the holy mandate that brought us to Meadville in the first place. There have been points along this journey when some of us may have questioned this call. But somehow we got through. We must remember that still small voice or that blazing clarion call. And surround ourselves with people and places who will help us remember.
Stay Relevant. We must try to keep up with the world, as much as it may hurt sometimes. We won’t know where we are needed unless we know where the rough, sore and tender spots are. Also, we also won’t know when there is a cause for laughter and happiness if we don’t know the places where joy has taken hold.
Move Up and Move Back. We must not be afraid to speak truth to power and make sure that we give space to those whose voices need to be uplifted. There is a void that the religious left needs to fill, but we have to remember not to fall in love with the sound of our own voices, and we must acknowledge and amplify the voices, thoughts, feelings, and needs of those who we say we are in relationships with.
Be Compassionate. To engage in true justice requires a compassionate heart. Our hearts will tell us what needs to be done. We must be willing to embrace discomfort, and perhaps even welcome it. Because the call to justice springing from our compassionate hearts, might require that we move away from, and even reject, what makes us comfortable.
Be Human. It is a messy world—filled with complex people living in complicated times. This means a willingness to make mistakes, a willingness to learn in ways that are uncomfortable, willing to live in uncertainty. Because if we are truly committed to deconstructing the systems that have upheld injustice in our midst, we have to be willing to be human and to fully embrace the humanity of others.
And love... love the world... and love ourselves. Implied in that is that we take care of ourselves, that we take the time to nourish all aspects of our being. And that the impulse and desire to engage in the hard work hard that needs to be done, is balanced by an almost equal amount of rest, prayer and play.
Because this goodbye isn’t the end. It is a beginning.”
The bond and support of Meadville Lombard Learning Community extend far beyond graduation. We are so proud of our alums and their ministry. We look forward to following their ministerial path, as they go out into the world as spiritual leaders and inspire actions to make sustained societal change.