“Be where it matters”


written by Annette Brill Bergstresser, originally published by Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, DMin, author, educator and church leader, gives the address at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s 2023 Commencement Service on April 29. (Credit: Jason Bryant)

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, DMin, encouraged participants at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s (AMBS) April 29 Commencement Service to be the kind of spiritual leaders who are needed today.

“We need to speak mostly outside the church — to be prophetic and pastoral in a priestly manner,” said the author, former seminary professor and chaplain-interpreter in her commencement address. “I want to challenge you to dress the part and show up. That’s what Christianity today looks like. Go to the courthouses; be where it matters. In the schools; be where it matters. Don’t stay in the four walls of the church. Make the church move.”

Around 140 people attended the Commencement Service in person in the seminary’s Chapel of the Sermon on the Mount in Elkhart, Indiana — including 10 of the 20 members of the Class of 2023. The event was also livestreamed.

Soto Albrecht, who is from Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is an ordained minister and the first Latina to have served as Moderator of Mennonite Church USA (2013–15). In her commencement address, she focused on the Apostle Paul’s farewell letter to his disciple Timothy (found in the Bible in 2 Timothy), encouraging the graduates “to present yourselves to God as approved” (2 Timothy 2:15).

“Today this institution has said, ‘You are approved.’ The communities that sent you here blessed you to be here,” she said. “But the ultimate approval that we need to achieve is from God. Paul is saying to Timothy, ‘Whatever you have achieved as a church planter, as a pastor, as my disciple, be sure that you present yourself to God. In that moment, no [seminary] degree matters; nothing else matters. It’s just you and the Creator God.”

She described three levels of faith formation seen in the life of Timothy, who was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father (Gentile). He was shaped by the influence of the faith of his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice. He was formed by learning from his mentor, Paul. And he had his own experiences, which were reflected in his learnings and witness to others. Soto Albrecht emphasized Paul’s charge to Timothy to pass his faith on to others.

“Today we want to charge all of you for what is coming,” she said. “I know that with your skill sets, having mastered these disciplines and competencies will help you translate this gospel into a world that needs a lot of translation, and I’m not talking about language translation but about life translation. The gospel is not only about accepting it and joining the church, but it is also about one’s capacity to share with others the truth we have learned and live by.”

She noted that the type of spiritual leaders needed today are “those who are not full of religious language.”

“We need multilingual leaders, multicultural navigators who are not afraid to use their prophetic imagination inside the church and outside of the church,” she said. “Grab your people from the church, and let’s go to where it matters. Those are the spiritual leaders we need today — who can speak the language of politics, of social media, of mental health … who can speak many languages and translate this to society and to the church.”

“We can never be church the way it used to be,” she continued. “We need to face a different way of being the

iglesia, the body of Christ.”

After the graduates received their degrees and certificates, Andy Brubacher Kaethler, PhD, Associate Professor of Christian Formation and Culture at AMBS, charged them to “Go forth, into the world, and boldly engage in holy mischief.” He clarified that “holy mischief” is not physical violence and does not perpetuate economic, political or social injustice. Rather, it reveals the kingdom of God, witnesses to Jesus’ good news of justice and reconciliation for all, exposes injustice to persons and to creation, and nurtures hope and joy for those who need it most.

“Holy mischief disrupts systems of oppression by intercepting hate and transforming it into empathy, by reforming anger into righteous indignation, by redirecting violence into well mannered frivolity — in short, in confounding the principalities and powers,” he said. “You will know you are succeeding when you see systems changing, if ever so slowly.”

Allan Rudy-Froese, PhD, Associate Professor of Christian Proclamation at AMBS, gave examples from Jesus’ life and ministry as he modified a blessing for the graduates from Voices Together 1058 (MennoMedia, 2020). He asked God to bless them with restless discomfort about easy answers and half-truths; holy anger at injustice and oppression; the gift of tears for all who suffer pain, rejection and trauma; foolishness to believe they can make a difference in the world; play and playfulness; and “out-of-the-box thinking.”

Following the service, a reception was held in the Waltner Hall Lounge for the seminary community, the graduates and their guests.

The 2023 graduating class

Of the 20 graduates honored during the commencement service, eight earned a Master of Arts: Theology and Global Anabaptism, six earned a Master of Divinity, three earned a Master of Arts: Theology and Peace Studies and three earned a Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies. Seven of the graduates who received the MA: Theology and Global Anabaptism made up the first cohort of Ethiopian students to complete the program entirely from Ethiopia through a partnership between AMBS and Meserete Kristos Seminary in Bishoftu/Debre Zeit that began in 2019.

The graduating class comprised 12 men and eight women from five countries — Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and the United States. Ten completed part or all of their seminary studies at a distance.

The 10 members of the Class of 2023 who were present for Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s April 29 Commencement Service pose with Beverly Lapp, EdD (at left), Vice President and Academic Dean, and David Boshart, PhD (at right), President. (Credit: Jason Bryant)

Eight of the graduates are serving in pastoral ministry roles or seeking pastoral assignments; four are serving   in a church organization or institution; three are pursuing or seeking to pursue further graduate studies; two are serving in mission or evangelism; and two are seeking work in peacebuilding and social justice. One each is pursuing further chaplaincy education, seeking a teaching assignment, working in mental health or working with children’s spiritual formation. One is discerning future plans.

Eleven of the graduates are affiliated with Mennonite Church USA; eight with the Meserete Kristos Church (Ethiopian Mennonite Church); two with the Brethren in Christ; and one with Mennonite Church Canada.

Mennonite colleges and universities with graduates in AMBS’s Class of 2023 include Bluffton University, Canadian Mennonite University, Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College and Meserete Kristos Seminary.

A recording of the Commencement Service is available at ambs.edu/graduation.

Credit: Jason Bryant

Located in Elkhart, Indiana, on ancestral land of the Potawatomi and Miami peoples, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary is a learning community with an Anabaptist vision, offering theological education for learners both on campus and at a distance as well as a wide array of lifelong learning programs — all with the goal of educating followers of Jesus Christ to be leaders for God’s reconciling mission in the world. ambs.edu

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