Morning rain evaporated into afternoon May sunshine as members of the Moravian Theological Seminary Class of 2022, in graduation robes and mortar boards, processed into Bethlehem’s Central Moravian Church, where family and friends had gathered.
The graduation service was presided over by Dr. Bryon Grigsby, president of Moravian University, Moravian Theological Seminary and Lancaster Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Dr. Heather H. Vacek, who was marking her first year as vice president and dean of the two seminaries. Another first this year was the online availability of the one-hour service, which was livestreamed.
During the ceremony, Moravian Theological Seminary conferred a total of 21 graduate degrees and certificates: 12 Graduate Certificates in Spiritual Direction, three Graduate Certificates in Moravian Studies, three Master of Arts in Theological Studies, and one degree each of Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Chaplaincy and Master of Arts in Theological Studies.
Dena Grillo Fortuzi is one of the six Moravian graduates among the Class of 2022. From Tirana, Albania, Dena earned a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. She was awarded The Rev. Elmer D. Bender Memorial Prize that is given to a “worthy individual preparing for the ministry of the Moravian Church.” In the audience was a Moravian delegation that had supported Dena in her seminary journey. They travelled north from the Southern Province to be present at this happy moment for her. Dena is looking forward to ordination while serving as the lay pastor in the six congregations of the Moravian Church in Albania.
“When I started seminary,” she recalls, “I didn’t know what kind of journey was ahead of me. As I started walking this path, I had mixed feelings. Soon I realized that I was not walking alone.
“During my studies at MTS, I have grown both academically and spiritually, thanks to the outstanding experiences and to the people I have encountered. I have shared my life with people from different backgrounds and yet feeling one in the Spirit.
“I will always be grateful to all those dear sisters and brothers who supported me, to all students whom I shared these wonderful years with and to all my amazing professors who were always ready to help me in the long run.
“God is continuously opening new doors for me, and my hope is that I will be a humble servant, responding daily to God’s call.”
Another of this year’s graduating Moravians is Pastor Tammie Rinker who completed her Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She plans to use her learnings in her congregational ministry at Westside Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pa., where she has served as pastor since February 2020. Tammie received her Master of Divinity from MTS in 1999, and she is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Clinical Counseling.
“I entered the program looking to expand my skill set,” she says, “and found something even more meaningful – a deep blessing and profound grace in the learning process and in contemplation.”
In addition to Dena and Tammie, other Moravian graduates include: Grace Adele Hochella of Allentown, Pa., who received a Master of Divinity and delivered the Graduate Address; Dana Myers of Winston-Salem, N.C., who received a Graduate Certificate in Moravian Studies and is now serving Fries Moravian Church in Winston-Salem; Esther Vitt Gonzalez of Ardrossen, Alberta, Canada, who received a Graduate Certificate in Spiritual Direction; and Margaret Norris and Madison White of Winston-Salem, N.C., who each received a Graduate Certificate in Moravian Studies. Margaret is now serving as pastor at Hope Moravian in Winston-Salem; Madi is serving in specialized ministry as a chaplain at Wake Health.
In celebrating the accomplishments of all our graduates, we’ll leave you with this message from Dean Vacek, marking the end of another successful academic year at Moravian Theological Seminary:
“This was a year that called us to be flexible and adaptable in the face of change, but one thing remained steady: our shared journey of theological education. Whether through distance learning or in-person in the classroom, we continued our mission to equip persons with the knowledge, skills and being to engage in vocations that serve God and humanity in a world of change. As the members of our Class of 2022 step into a new chapter of their vocational lives, we give thanks for your prayers, support and witness which continue to make possible this sacred journey to serve.”