Dr. N. Bradley Christie, Acting president of Erskine College and Theological Seminary, welcomed graduates and guests and introduced the speaker, and Chairman W. David Conner brought greetings from the Erskine Board of Trustees.
Adjunct Professor of Ministry Dr. R. Leslie Holmes delivered the commencement sermon.
Holmes began with warnings about difficulties pastors are bound to encounter as they engage in ministry, noting that 90 percent of seminary graduates surveyed five years later said their seminary training proved inadequate for problems they faced.
“There are some things that seminary cannot train you for,” he said, adding that Erskine Seminary does “a better job than most.”
“Approximately 1,700 pastors leave pastoral ministry in America every month,” he said.
Holmes listed a number of false assumptions that seminary graduates might make.
“If you believe your studying days are over because you have a degree, you’re a dummy with a diploma,” he said. “If you believe everyone in your church is going to like you, you’re a dummy with a diploma.”
He concluded his list by referring back to the numbers of pastors leaving the ministry. “If you are certain you will never consider quitting, you are a dummy with a diploma,” he said.
Holmes offered Paul’s experience, described by the apostle in the second chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, as a helpful example for new pastors.
First, Holmes said, Paul is “scared” when he speaks to a skeptical audience “in weakness and in fear and much trembling (v. 3)” but is freed from that fear; pastors need too be freed from the fear of what others think of them.
Second, Paul stuck to the “simplicity” of the gospel, speaking of “Jesus Christ and him crucified (v. 2)”—”There is no other message,” Holmes said.
Finally, Paul relied on the “supremacy” of God’s power, “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (v 5),” and pastors must do this each day.
“You are the 2014 class of Erskine Theological Seminary,” Holmes said. “We send you out believing you are thoroughly well formed, intellectually curious, equipped not by man’s wisdom but by God’s power.”
The invocation was given by the Rev. L. Calvin Draffin, pastor of the Due West ARP Church, and a prayer for the Class of 2014 was offered by John R. DeWitt Professor of Systematic Theology Dr. Mark Ross.
Dr. James Meek, dean of the seminary, presented this year’s student awards.
The Bruce G. Pierce Award for Christian Leadership was given to John Brooks Pipher.
The Chalice Press Book Award was given to Rex Everett Wright Sr. The Douglas Joel Culver Award in Biblical Hebrew was given to Jordan Matthew Durham.
The Zondervan House Publishing Award in Biblical Greek was given to Thomas Michael King, and the Zondervan Publishing House Award in Biblical Hebrew was given to Eric Scott Wenger.
Christie conferred the degrees on the candidates, who were presented by Meek, and Erskine College and Theological Seminary Alumni Association President Steve Southwell inducted the Class of 2014 into the organization. H. Greg Dixon, president of the Class of 2014, gave the response.
Degrees awarded included the following:
Master of Arts in Practical Ministry: Patricia Ann Dickerson, Dublin, Ga.; Harry Steven Murdock, Belton Master of Arts in Theological Studies: Stacy Watford, Lamar; Michael V. Cochran, Charlotte, N.C.; Asher Salmon Din, Sahiwal, Punjab, Pakistan; Matthew D. Frazier, Atlanta, Ga.
Master of Arts in Educational Ministries; Hyo Jung Kim, Pusan, South Korea; Rex Everett Wright Sr., Evans, Ga.; Larry Murphy, Easley
Master of Divinity: William Spencer Cain, Louisville, Ga.; Arnold Anthony Gordon, Johns Island; Martha Gregory Hill, Chester; Christopher David McCoy, Monroe, Ga.; William Andrew Orr, Alpharetta, Ga.; Reginald Belton, Columbia; Hugh Gregory Dixon, Rockville; Aundry N. Evans Sr., Georgetown; Forstene Watson Johnston, Sumter; Myra DeLesline Meggett, Charleston; John Brooks Pipher, Melbourne Beach, Fla.; Leroy Odell Rabon Jr., Cayce; Annabelle Robinson, Wadmalaw Island; William Frank Smith Jr., Abbeville; Leondra Marniqua Stoney, Mount Pleasant
Doctor of Ministry: Brian Lewis Howard, Florence; Frantzo Saint-Val, North Miami Beach, Fla.; Douglas Andrew Yates, Grovetown, Ga.; Mark T. Baynes, Kernersville, N.C.; Juan Carlos Bonilla, Shell, Ecuador; James Curtis Breaux, Ladson; Charles Matthew Causey, Manassas, Va.; James Edward Duke, Selma, Texas; Josh Lee Llano, Houston, Texas; James Roger McCay Jr., Montgomery, Ala.; Robert Paul Sinnett Jr., Marietta, Ohio; Stanley Vyrl Smith, Columbia; Chad Ashley Bellamy, Toccoa, Ga.
See more seminary commencement photos here.