Published on December 1, 2023 by Neal Embry  
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On Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, Beeson Divinity School celebrated the commencement of 17 graduates and held a special service of consecration as the new graduates take their next steps in Christian ministry.

The service began with commencement, presided over by Beeson Dean Douglas A. Sweeney, with Samford University President Beck Taylor conferring degrees upon the graduates. Fifteen graduates received a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree, along with one student receiving a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) degree and one student receiving a Doctor of Ministry degree (DMin).

Following commencement, the service transitioned to one of consecration, a time when Beeson faculty pray over the graduates one by one, setting them apart for the work of Christian ministry.

Commencement speaker Gerald Hiestand, pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, pointed graduates and guests to God’s love for His people as the foundation for Christian life and ministry during his sermon.

“If the heart of gospel ministry is love—and it is, and if nothing we do counts for anything without love—and it doesn’t, then where do we get the love with which we love God and others?” Hiestand asked.

Turning to 1 John 4:19, Hiestand reminded graduates that “we love because He first loved us.”

“Before our love for God, before our love for others, before our command of the Scriptures—beneath all of that, at the very foundation of the Christian life, which is the foundation of gospel ministry, lies God’s vast, unmeasurable, unending love for us in Jesus,” Hiestand said. “And if there is one thing a gospel minister needs to know in his heart of hearts, in the core of his being, it’s how very much he or she is loved by God.”

Several years ago, Hiestand said, he suffered an anxiety attack just before embarking on a sabbatical. In the time after the anxiety attack and during his sabbatical, God reminded him just how much Jesus loved him, Hiestand said.

“I already knew that in my head. And I’m sure that all of you know it in your heads, too,” Hiestand said. “But somewhere along the way, I had let the love that Christ has for me slip into the background.”

Hiestand reminded graduates that God’s love for them is not “based on your work for him, the size of your church you will pastor, the sermons you will preach, the books you might write (or) the insights you bring.”

“He loves you because He sees Himself in you, like a father sees himself in his child,” Hiestand said. “And His love for you preceded your love for Him and is the generative source of all that you have to offer Him.

“This morning as you get ready to embark in a career of gospel ministry, I call you—back if necessary—to your first love,” Hiestand said. “Not the love by which you first loved Jesus, but the love by which He first loved you.”

This semester’s graduates are:

  • Edwin Austin Baker, DMin
  • Cooper Froehlich, MATS
  • Emmanuel James Boston, MDiv
  • Stuart Robert Clay, MDiv
  • Joseph Ryan Collins, MDiv, with an Anglican Certificate
  • Jordan Leigh Cummings, MDiv
  • John Tribbett Fulwiler, MDiv
  • Graham Brooks Gaines, MDiv
  • Jermaine Rashun Johnson, MDiv
  • Davis Benton Kinchler, MDiv, with a Wesleyan Certificate
  • Kristofer Victor Labenske, MDiv, with a Wesleyan Certificate
  • Jessica Bristow Leslie, MDiv
  • Alan Reid Parrish, MDiv
  • Ava Claire Perego, MDiv, with a Missions Certificate
  • William Jake Petty, MDiv
  • Cody Matthew Prewitt, MDiv, with a Wesleyan Certificate
  • Preston Alan Smith, MDiv

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Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.