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"The role of a religious or spiritual leader is inspire and create wonder:" President Lew Zeidner Addresses the Graduating Class of 2018

Commencement for the graduating class of 2018 was May 6.  Reiterating what it means to pursue theological education, the following is President Lew Zeidner's address to the graduates and their families.

Graduation is a momentous day.  It marks a significant accomplishment for each of the graduates!  And beside every graduate there are family members, partners, friends, pastors, faculty, staff, fellow students and others who have played a significant role in getting to this day and accomplishment.  We all have a great deal of gratitude for the sacrifices, support, love and wisdom that you have shared through your graduate’s years of study at United.

Graduates of United have by definition selected a difficult but vital vocational role.  Whether as a minister, chaplain, academic, social advocate, artist, non-profit leader or a little bit of all of these, you will have the opportunity to be with people during their most vulnerable, painful, wonderful and confusing moments.  They will look to you to walk with them through their life experiences, balancing your knowledge and wisdom with all of the compassion that you can muster.

We are confident that you have begun to build insights and skills in Seminary that you will work and continuously refine through the end of your days.  Training for ministry is neither finite nor ever complete.  It is our hope that you will continue to see United as a resource in your development; whether to add additional skills, work through crises of faith, or simply to have a safe place to be you!

There is an additional request that I would make of all graduates.  In the end you did not come to Seminary just to graduate.  Graduation may have been a proximate goal, but you came to Seminary to build the competence and confidence to pursue or expand a vocation in some form of ministry. 

United’s best measure of its effectiveness in its programs and vocational preparation will be in your experiences beginning tomorrow, maybe even this evening.  We want to know where you ultimately conclude that your training has prepared you well, where it started processes of insight and personal awareness that effectively undergird your work.  And we also want to know about skills that you wished you had been exposed to in Seminary as well as any perceived gaps in your preparation.

We have been preparing Seminarians for 55+ years in New Brighton and 137 and 120 years on our two predecessor campuses.  So, we know something about theological formation and the preparation of people for ministry.  Additionally, we get feedback from denominations and an ever-evolving wise, thoughtful and skilled faculty.  And at the same time some of our most valuable input comes from those who seek to apply their United education in the real world.  We vitally need your feedback both short-term and throughout the coming years and decades.

We are changing campus locations in the next year, much as our Seminary did in the early '60s.  At its core that move reflects our awareness that while the key messages of ministry have not changed, some of the methods for engaging others and inspiring them to live lives filled with love and hope, to reject hate and isolationism, to see God in others regardless of their background, beliefs, physical characteristics or life mistakes, need to evolve and improve. 

I am not being disrespectful to my parents and their efforts to provide for my brother and I when I say that I do not wish to live in the home of my youth nor live the life of my parents.  My values were formed and my life foundation was laid in that environment, so that I could develop into an adult in service to my family, community and God.  Similarly, to argue that seminary training has and must continue to evolve in service to the needs of the community and world is a statement of respect for our glorious and diverse heritages, that their core must be remembered and cherished, while their expression within the context of an evolving world must be innovatively and regularly re-imagined. 

Finally, however God calls you to use your Seminary education always remember that the role of a religious or spiritual leader is not to be the most theologically learned person in the room; it is to inspire and create wonder for those who are receptive to your message.  To do that effectively your words need to be understandable and relevant to those who are to be inspired by them. 



Dr. Lewis P. Zeidner

Dr. Lewis P. Zeidner is the President of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.

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