Recognizing of the 2020 Graduates of Moravian Theological Seminary

Life as we knew it stopped very abruptly in March 2020. But what did not get derailed was the determination and forward motion of the seniors and faculty at Moravian Seminary.

In response to the pandemic, all of our classes went online; counseling and church internships met virtually; masters’ theses were defended on Zoom; and 25 seniors rose to the occasion and completed degrees and certificates.

This annual article typically recounts our commencement ceremony with its inspiring speeches, honorary awards and the uplifting emotion of the day.  Instead, the conclusion of Moravian Seminary’s 213th year was punctuated with congratulatory videos, Facebook posts honoring each graduate, and the mailing of diplomas and graduate awards.

Our seniors requested that we postpone their commencement ceremony until we could gather as a community in person. We remain hopeful and continue to plan to honor our 2020 graduates in person in May 2021, in tandem with our 2021 graduates.

Though disappointing to have not held a commencement ceremony, we are pleased to highlight the Moravians who completed their degrees and certificates during the unforgettable year of 2020, and share the positions they have accepted and their unfolding plans.

Linda Wisser, from the Emmaus Moravian congregation and former pastoral assistant there, earned the Master of Divinity degree and was installed as pastor of East Hills Moravian Church in Bethlehem in September.  Linda was the recipient of the Moses Homiletics Prize which is granted to the member of the graduating class who has excelled in preaching and practical pulpit work.

Earning her second degree from the Seminary, Desna Henry Goulbourne completed a Master of Arts in Chaplaincy and will continue to serve as pastor of the United Moravian Church in New York City. Desna received the Bender Memorial Prize in recognition of her gifts and skills for serving in ministry in the Moravian Church.

Paul Silwamba received a Master of Arts in Theological Studies and has returned to his home in Zambia.  He hopes to use the work from his master’s thesis to make a positive impact on his community.   His thesis, “The Bible Fighting Hunger in African Households,” laid out a theological rationale for how the Moravian Church in Zambia could help Africans work together over the long-term to mitigate hunger problems instead of turning to short-term solutions that foster continued dependence on external agencies and Western aid.

Berjanelle Budier was one of eleven graduates in the Master of Arts in Clinical Counseling program.  A Moravian who is originally from Bluefields, Nicaragua, she accepted a position prior to graduation as clinician at CONCERN Behavioral Health Services in 
Bethlehem, Pa.

Every other year, a cohort of students in the Spiritual Direction Intensive program complete the certificate program. Three of the five individuals who completed the program are Moravians with deep roots in the Moravian Church and the Seminary and look to incorporate spiritual direction into their ministries.

Linda Unser, who earned the Master of Arts in Theological Studies in 2017, provides spiritual direction and a monthly column in the newsletter of her home congregation, Emmaus Moravian Church.  A retired pastor with degrees in Theological Studies and an MDiv, the Rev. Maggie Wellert uses this learning when offering support to others. The Rev. Jennika Borger, who earned the Master of Divinity in 2001, infuses much of this experience into her work as Chaplain at Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary.

Two students who will complete their Master of Divinity degrees in 2021 were recipients of awards. Charlie McDonald, pastoral intern at Emmaus Moravian Church, received the Hamilton Biblical Language Prize for outstanding work in Hebrew. Scott Rainey, who is the music director, organist, and pastoral intern at Bethania Moravian Church, received the Frueauff Memorial Prize for his outstanding research and class work in Moravian history.

Congratulations to our 2020 graduates and award recipients, the nine Moravians mentioned here, as well as the 18 other graduates who make up our school’s rich tapestry of faith traditions and humanity.  Our graduates truly rose to the occasion as their last semester turned upside down.

Acknowledgement also needs to be given to our faculty who had to switch their lesson plans and course delivery from in-person to online within a window of 10 days.  We continue to offer all of our courses online, which increases accessibility and safety, yet decreases the in-person connection that had been the hallmark of Moravian Seminary.  Our faculty continue to seek the most creative and effective ways to marry the interpersonal and academic aspects of theological education in our virtual spaces.

Our goal remains, especially now in a world fractured by a global pandemic, divisive politics, and social unrest, that we have provided the foundation for our graduates to offer a fearless, grace-filled, God-centered presence to individuals in their care.

Jane Weber is director of administration at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania