Margaret Farley sends Class of 2007 into the world with Good News of "acceptance, forgiveness"
By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications
Commencement 2007 marked the end of an era at Yale Divinity School and the beginning of the next phase in the drama called "life" for 136 students-turned-alumni.
For Margaret Farley, who delivered the worship service address, it was her last commencement before retiring from the YDS faculty, nearly three decades after she arrived on the Quad as a young lecturer.
As for the graduates-70 M.Div.'s, 52 M.A.R.'s, and 14 S.T.M.'s-they will be heading off to a diverse range of pursuits, a number to graduate programs in religious studies or to parish ministries. Others are aiming at less common career paths. Among these: Nathan Parkes is going to Chicago to work with The Second City comedy troupe; Leigh Preston is headed to El Salvador to do mission work; Alisha Jones will enter the Ph.D. program in ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago; Elijah Heyward will attend law school at the University of South Carolina.
"You go forth to diverse ministries," said Farley, the Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics and a defining part of the YDS experience for hundreds of alumni, in her May 27 sermon. " The difficulties that await you are both known and unknown, and so are the possibilities. You will not be spared the trials of apparent irrelevance in a post-Christian or post-traditional religious world; nor will you be spared the cries of the poor and oppressed that make your faith more relevant than you may wish. Like the theology you have studied, so also the ministry you practice will not be able to ignore either the world's need for meaning or the demands of action in the face of violence, suffering, and injustices of all kinds.
Farley pursued the diversity theme further as she explicated themes from the Christian feast of Pentecost, which commemorates the descent of the Spirit on the disciples and their ability to miraculously understand each of the many difference languages that were spoken. Said Farley, " The point, then, is not that differences have been erased; not that the deep human differences we now know to characterize diverse languages, histories, cultures, have become irrelevant. The point is that the word of God is not foreign to any human experience; that difference can be not only accepted but needed (and blessed) because it forms the ears that can hear in every tongue the voice of the Spirit."
She pointed to acceptance and forgiveness as being at the heart of the Gospel's "good news."
"Freedom and forgiveness, acceptance and peace: these are the mighty works of God of which we are to speak in every language and tongue," observed Farley. "Naive? I don't think so. Dangerous? Perhaps so. Possible? I believe so. To those of you who go forth from this place tomorrow, my greatest hope for you is that-in whatever your diverse ministries-you, somehow, each of you, receive and give, by the power of the Spirit, these gifts."
If Farley is among the longest-serving members of the faculty, Nora Tubbs Tisdale is among the newest, and it was Tisdale who gave the communion service address on graduation day, May 28.
Tisdale lauded members of the Class of 2007 for what she termed their collective "passionate commitment to God and to God's world," which she said had greatly inspired since coming to Yale Divinity School in 2006 from a position at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City.
She encouraged the graduates to continue to take seriously their calling to be "footwashers in Jesus' name":
To bathe the feet of those who are weary and wounded by war with the waters of peace and justice and hope of reconciliation.
To bathe the feet of those who are poor and homeless, refugees and immigrants, with the waters of hospitality and kindness and advocacy;
To bathe the feet of those who are despairing with waters of hope,
and the feet of those who are guilty with the waters of forgiveness.
And to bathe the feet of all who come to tables such as this one
with broken hearts and wounded spirits with the renewing waters of God's bountiful, overflowing grace.
But she reminded these "footwashers" that they should not neglect themselves: "For it is only those who first allow their own feet to be washed by Jesus' grace and mercy that are then empowered and equipped to extend that same grace and mercy to others."
Some of the passion that Tisdale alluded to was put in bold relief when a student-generated petition was publicly announced, calling for "immediate action for the sake of peace" in Darfur. The petition, bearing signatures of YDS students, faculty, staff, and friends, was mailed to Connecticut congressional leaders and President Bush. One of the petition organizers, graduating student Angela Batie, who is taking a position as campus minister at Saint Louis University, reported that 292 signatures were collected over the two days of commencement.
"Charges" to students were delivered by Dean Harold Attridge and Titus Street Professor of Theology Serene Jones.
Jones, at the conclusion of the commencement worship service, spoke of graduates leaving YDS with "a toolbox" full of "knowledge, tradition, and relationships that will dispose you well in the years ahead."
And she praised what she termed YDS's "apocalyptic verve of an education that still believes the world is enchanted and the ironic wit of a place that refuses to be too serious, too pious, too easy or sly."
"Take that wildness and irony and be poets–re-enchant the world," Jones urged.
In the last few moments before diplomas were handed out to graduates as they mounted the Marquand Chapel steps, Attridge said, " You know that you are going out to a world that is full of challenge, a world where violence and suffering are all too much in evidence; a world threatened by environmental degradation; a world where justice seems hard to find. You know that you have work to do and we hope that we have helped you equip yourselves to do it.
"My one little addition to all that you have heard, despite the trials and tribulations that we all face: Remember the words of Paul to the Philippians: 'Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.'"