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Graduates Honored at Commencement Ceremonies

June 3, 2011

Gordon-Conwell had the honor of awarding degrees to more than 300 graduating students at three commencement ceremonies in May.

Students from the Hamilton and Boston (CUME) campuses graduated in ceremonies on May 14. Students from the Jacksonville campus walked May 15, and those from the Charlotte campus walked May 21. These commencement weekends provided a valuable opportunity to celebrate graduates’ accomplishments and send them out to advance Christ’s Kingdom throughout the world.

Hamilton/CUME Commencement and Baccalaureate Exercises
At the Hamilton/CUME ceremonies on May 14, Gordon-Conwell awarded 290 master’s degrees and 48 Doctor of Ministry degrees to more than 240 students. In addition, an honorary doctorate was awarded to Ramez Atallah, the commencement speaker, and an Order of Barnabas Award was given to Mrs. Lita Schlueter, Dean of Students and Director of Student Life Services. Both the baccalaureate service on May 13 and the commencement exercises the next day were held at Gordon College in Wenham, MA.

Baccalaureate Student Testimonies:
Mrs. Cynthia Monwei Wu graduated with an MAR. She was born and raised in Houston, TX, and graduated from the University of Texas with a major in Spanish. She felt the call to missions while on a college spring break mission trip in Mexico, and a year after marrying, she and her husband, David (a 2011 M.Div. graduate), moved to China, where they spent 3 years. She and David have three children.

Zacharie Delma graduated with a D.Min. degree in the Pastoral Skills track. Born and raised in Burkina Faso, he entered the D.Min. program after earning a bachelor of theology and a master’s of missiology in Africa. He is National Director of the Assemblies of God Sunday School program in Burkina Faso and edits the church magazine Flamme. He is National Coordinator of a continuing training program for local church leaders and is Second Vice President of the Burkina Faso Assemblies of God General Council. He is married to Aoua Delma, and they have five children.

Jonatán Samuel Toledo Pena graduated with an M.Div. Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, he learned about Gordon-Conwell through the seminary’s Dean of Hispanic Ministries, Dr. Al Padilla. He completed a diploma program at CUME before entering the M.Div. program. He currently ministers at Congregación León de Judá, a prominent Spanish speaking church in Boston, and is especially involved in their Children’s Ministry. He opened the first Spanish AWANA Club in New England through León de Judá. He served as an active member of the Pierce Fellowship, assisting in CUME’s chapel program, and handling administrative duties as a student worker at CUME. In addition, he was instrumental in coordinating the offsite registration process for the launch of Gordon-Conwell’s Hispanic Ministries Program.

Baccalaureate sermon:
The baccalaureate sermon was given by Patrick Smith, Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy. Prof. Smith is a Ph.D. candidate at Wayne State University and is ordained with the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. He has provided theological education to pastors and church leaders in Zambia and is a member of the state Board of Directors at the Michigan Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Commencement Student Remarks:
Brian Wilmarth graduated with an M.Div. along with his wife, Jessica. He grew up in Central Illinois in a family of farmers and was very involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in high school and at Calvin College. He has participated in sports most of his life, earning many honors and breaking some school records. However, he says, “I do not value the honors as much as the lessons I learned about life.” Being involved with the FCA allowed him to identify his gifts and talents, which opened up opportunities to hear God’s call to ministry as a vocation. Brian has a passion for the ministry and the church, particularly for preaching and discipleship. He hopes to earn a Th.M., and then participate in local church ministry.

Commencement address:
The commencement address was given by Ramez Atallah, General Secretary of the Bible Society of Egypt (BSE). The BSE is the largest Arabic Bible publisher in the world and a committed provider of modestly priced or free biblical resources. Ramez is honorary President of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, an organization ministering to Christian students at colleges and universities globally, and he has served on the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. He holds an M.Div. and an honorary doctorate from Gordon-Conwell.

Jacksonville Baccalaureate/Commencement Exercises
On May 15, Gordon-Conwell—Jacksonville held its second-ever commencement ceremony. Eight students walked at the ceremony.

The commencement speaker was Dr. Jon Shuler, Adjunct Professor of Evangelism and Church Planting at Gordon-Conwell. Dr. Shuler is an ordained priest in the Anglican Mission in America and the rector of New Grace Church in Orange Park, Florida. He has been directly involved with planting more than 200 churches.

Graduating student Christian Partyka also spoke during the ceremony. After graduating from Moody Bible Institute, Partyka wanted to begin seminary right away at the Hamilton campus of Gordon-Conwell, but God had other plans. He and his wife moved instead to Jacksonville to work with her home church.

“By the hand of Providence, I never went to seminary,” Partyka said. “Rather, seminary came to me. I was able to maintain my responsibilities of providing for my growing family and remain in my established church body while I pursued my degree.”

Partyka received a Master of Divinity and plans to pursue full-time ministry as the pastor of a local church.

Gordon-Conwell—Jacksonville looks forward to continuing to train busy students like Partyka to think theologically, engage globally and live biblically while remaining in the work and ministries to which God has called them.

Charlotte Baccalaureate/Commencement Exercises
Gordon-Conwell—Charlotte awarded 61 master’s degrees and 21 Doctor of Ministry degrees during commencement exercises May 21 at The Park Church on Beatties Ford Road in Charlotte.

The commencement speaker was Ramez L. Atallah, General Secretary of the Bible Society of Egypt, which is now the largest Arabic Bible publisher in the world. The BSE produces Bibles and study aids in various formats to make resources more widely available in the region, particularly to the poor and others who would have a difficult time getting a Bible. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Gordon-Conwell at its May 14 commencement in Hamilton, MA. He is the honorary president of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, which ministers to Christian students at colleges and universities globally. He also served on the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization 1974-1994.

A baccalaureate service was held May 20, also at The Park Church. The speaker was Dr. Garth Rosell, Professor of Church History. Dr. Rosell previously served Gordon-Conwell as Dean and as Vice-President for Academic Affairs. He helped establish the Doctor of Ministry program and the Harold John Ockenga Institute. For 17 years, he chaired the Division of Christian Thought and was Director of the Ockenga Institute. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), Dr. Rosell has ministered in local congregations and served on denominational committees. He is a founding member of the In Trust magazine editorial board and has chaired accreditation teams and grants committees for the Association of Theological Schools.

The Towel and Basin Award, given for distinguished service to the Charlotte campus, was given to Rev. Percy McFarland Burns, long-time volunteer chaplain. Burns, a native of Bay Springs, Mississippi, also helped lead the Shepherds, a group of pastoral leaders in Charlotte who meet weekly, and serves on the executive committee of Charlotte Awake, a prayer network he helped found.

Four students spoke during commencement: Matthew McGarity, Carmen Joy Imes, Matthew Hemsley and Linda Hanby. McGarity, an Associate Minister of River Hills Community Church in Lake Wylie, SC, is also the founding lead pastor of Relevant, a “church within a church” meeting at River Hills. Imes, a Denver native, is a graduate of Multnomah Bible College and served as a missionary to the Philippines before coming to Gordon-Conwell to earn a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.

The student speakers emphasized the important role Gordon-Conwell has played in their spiritual and professional development.

Hemsley is the Associate Pastor of City Church and calls himself “an accidental seminarian,” due to a surprising call to ministry and church planting after a career in video production.

“Becoming a full-time student was not an option financially,” Hemsley said of his first years as a church planter in Charlotte. “I was stunned to discover that 20 minutes away from me was a first-rate seminary set up for people just like me, enabling me to work and study at the same time. It was a tremendous reminder of God’s providence.”

In her mid-fifties, Hanby found herself needing a new start in life, and Gordon-Conwell’s counseling program was recommended by an unexpected source—her Jewish therapist.

“I challenged myself to go to graduate school,” Hanby said. “I believe God has prepared and seasoned me to fulfill my desire to empower others, particularly women, to find their inner strengths and God-given purpose.”

As these students complete their education, many recognize that they received more than just academic knowledge from their time in seminary.

“The greatest gift GCTS will leave with me is quite simply a much deeper faith and a greater love of God,” Hemsley said.