By Allen Black, retiring dean of Harding School of Theology
By the time you read this, Harding School of Theology’s 63rd annual commencement is a thing of the past.
Commencement is one of my favorite times of the year. I know that according to the song, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is in December. However, May is an exciting and energizing time for HST faculty and staff — not to mention the graduates with their families and friends. I’m sure this is true for faculty and staff in every segment of Harding, but I would like to focus on the piece of the pie centered in Memphis, Tennessee.
As I end a 38-year career at Harding School of Theology, I have seen close to half of our 1,771 graduates receive their degrees. Each year I am energized as I see how far each graduate has come, think about the impact they are already having, and ponder what our Lord will accomplish through them in the future.
The Lord sends HST a wonderfully gifted array of students. They have diverse ministerial interests, including preaching, youth ministry, chaplaincy, campus ministry, international missions and teaching. They represent diverse age groups: 20s to 60s — and beyond if you count auditors. They come from throughout the U.S. and the world. In fact, since we began using Zoom several years ago and well before COVID-19, we have a growing group of international students, most still living abroad (currently including Africa, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, China, India, and both Western and Eastern Europe).
This year we graduated 27 students. One is the last student to complete HST’s Master of Arts in Counseling (replaced now by a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling operated in Memphis as part of Harding’s College of Education). Two graduated with the more academically oriented Master of Arts (one in New Testament and one in theology). Eight received the more pastorally oriented Master of Arts in Christian Ministry. All of these master’s degrees represent at least two years of full-time work, although very few of these students were full time.
At the center of our program are the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees. The Master of Divinity degree involves studies in all areas needed by preachers and takes an absolute minimum of three full-time years — although our students customarily take four to 10 years. The Doctor of Ministry rests on a completed Master of Divinity and must be done part time while a student is involved in ministry. This year we had 13 students complete the Master of Divinity and three complete the
Doctor of Ministry.
All of our graduates are involved in ministry. All of them make significant personal sacrifices of time and money to improve the quality of their ministry. A majority of this year’s graduates are already working for a church. Some are looking for a church, and a few have pursued a degree to help with their volunteer service at a local church (with no intention of pursuing a paid ministry). Nine are pulpit ministers. Six work as youth, family, young adult or campus ministers. Two work in hospital chaplaincy. Two plan to pursue further graduate work. One helps lead Harding’s work in Zambia, and one will soon be planting a Hispanic church.
I have loved working for Harding University and in particular its School of Theology in Memphis. Although I will no longer serve as dean or a full-time professor, I look forward to adjuncting courses in the future. It is a great blessing to work with divinely gifted students who are making personal sacrifices to serve our Lord’s kingdom throughout the world.
Our time ar Harding was the blessing of a lifetime (1991-1996) at which time Ralph received the MDiv degree. After returning to California Ralph continued his education at Fuller Theological Seminary for work in the DMIN program. He completed all the classwork and was working on the thesis when the Terrible C struck. He continued working on it and maintaining his desire to see our grandson play college football. At one of the games his car was broken into when being parked in the college parking garage. Absolutely everything was stolen from grandson’s high school keepsakes to hard copy of thesis, thumb drive and computer and personal identifications. Only driver’s license was recovered. We learned 2 lessons: do not keep hard copies and computer in the same place and no one can steal the education one receives. It continues to bless us and others.