On May 20, 2018, Meadville Lombard celebrated our 173rd Commencement at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago.

President Lee Barker and Board Chair Kay Montgomery gave Opening Words and Invocation:

“Ours is a gathering set long ago by Unitarians and Universalists who forged this faith and marked a path for us.  In 1844, nine students entered Meadville Theological School in Pennsylvania.  On the Meadville side of our School, they formed the first student body and to this day, lend to our students the pioneering spirit of service. The future of faith is strong, represented by Meadville Lombard graduates who will carry us forward through their spiritual leadership. These are people who are determined to participate in the peace and harmony of things, helping the suffering to discover the deep wellspring of contentment and the oppressed to know true freedom; and guiding all tearful people to a promised land of justice.

And so we offer this invocation:
May our graduates keep ever hopeful, altering the world out of their joy.
May they keep ever faithful, knowing that true leaders are humble servants.
May they keep ever loving, forcing the new world to blossom just as the sun forces the new spring.

Our eager and accomplished graduates heard the inspiring sermon delivered by our new Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey, entitled Following the Circuitous Route.

“Now more than ever, we need dreamers who have the courage to carry the impossible dream along an unsure and quite possibly dangerous path. The one who will remind us that we can indeed climb mountains. Dreamers who encourage us in times of despair when we would give up hope. We need you in the local church, in the halls of local and federal government, in countries abroad, out on the streets. We need the dreamer who will inspire us to do better, to think better and to live better for our ‘precious babes’ and for the land on which we live.”

Watch her sermon below.


We awarded three Honorary Degrees: Doctor of Divinity to the Rev. Dr. Daniel O. Aleshire, Doctor of Humane Letters to Ms. Hillary Goodridge, and Doctor of Divinity to the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi.

Rev. Dr. Daniel Aleshire retired as executive director of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS) in 2017. His career has spanned almost 40 years in theological education. During the last few decades, as a steamroller of change reshaped the religious landscape and shaken the foundation of nearly every one of North America’s 270 accredited seminaries, the Rev. Dr. Aleshire brought seminaries and theological schools into supportive, collaborative relationships with one another and created a culture of cooperation.

Ms. Hillary Goodridge is the Program Director of the Unitarian Universalist Funding Program, which provides financial support to Unitarian Universalists through four distinct funds that reflect the breadth and depth of UU commitments to institutional religious life, social justice, community engagement, and global forms of liberal religion. She is also known for her marriage equality and LGBTQ activism. Ms. Goodridge and her former spouse Julie served as lead plaintiffs in the landmark case, Goodridge vs. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the victory of which set into motion the wave of state-level cases that eventually led in 2014 to the US Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

The Rev. Abhi Janamanchi graduated from Meadville Lombard in 1998. Born and raised in Southern India, he is a third-generation member of the Brahmo Samaj, a liberal Hindu reform movement with ties to Unitarian Universalism. The Rev. Janamanchi serves as Senior Minister of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, MD. He has been actively involved in international interfaith and multicultural work for over two decades, including serving as President of the International Association for Religious Freedom and the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Ambassador to the Unitarian Union of Northeast India and Chennai Unitarian Christian Church.

Meadville Lombard also conferred Master of Divinity degrees to 22 new graduates, Master of Arts in Leadership Studies degrees to two graduates, Master of Arts in Religion degree to one graduate, and a Dual Degree in Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Leadership Studies to one graduate.

Dr. Mark Hicks, Angus MacLean Professor of Religious Education, offered a Spoken Prayer:

“I invite you to join me in the spirit of prayer and, also, if you are so inclined, to join hands in common recognition of the beautiful community assembled here today.

Beloved graduates, the Great Spirit of Affirmation has called your name this day. You have been called to move into the light of bold leadership, reshaping the landscape of heads, hearts, and spirits. You have been called to minister to the poor and the privileged, those suffering from illness, the marginalized and the powerful, those who find themselves experiencing being different-in-the-world, those who need to see potential in their lives when all they see are problems. Bless these graduates, oh spirit, as they go about the work of showing up as a representative of love, compassion, justice, and Beloved Community.

Spirit of Adventure: Be with these our graduates as they encounter the ebb and flow of life. May they see opportunities as a knock on the door of their imagination. May new roads be a chance to shed the fashions of yesterday, to re-work worn-out ideas, outmoded practices and beliefs. Spirit, help them see things they encounter as strange, as something profoundly mesmerizing, beautiful, and even healing.   Make awe and delight a friend to their souls.

Spirit of Grit and Grace—Spirit of Learning: Be a partner with these, your people. Work your magic to smooth the jagged places. Keep them humble as they ride waves of success, and gracious in the face of critique and cynicism. Help them seek forgiveness from others and, after when they have broken their vow for the thousandth time, be with them as they find their way back home to their call. Remind them of the power of this community. Remind them they are always loved, even when they don’t want to be.

Spirit of familia: We call into this space of blessing those here, and those gone on—the spouses, partners, children, parents, grandparents. The friends. The mentors. We recognize those, who, on this day, join these graduates in a chorus of hallelujah in recognition of who they have become, and who they will be.  

And, finally, we pray a special prayer for this school, its faculty, staff, trustees, and friends—who ensure that the traditions started 174 years ago, will continue as long as we have breath. 

Spirit of Life and all that is sacred… God. May these things always be so.
Ashe. Blessed Be. Amen.”

Charge to the Graduates was given by two of Class of 2018, Reverends Connie Simon and Claudia Jiménez:

“We call upon our ancestors to join us in this sacred space. Not only the pioneers, not only those who graduated from this institution over the years and enjoyed full and satisfying ministerial careers, but also those who heard the call to ministry, but faced (and continue to face) barriers, and those who could not be settled, and those whose settlements and careers were cut short by the culture of white supremacy and oppression that permeates our society.

To all of them, we bid you welcome and ask you to join us in sharing your wisdom with the Meadville Lombard Theological School Class of 2018.

Lillia Cuervo, William Jackson, Marta Valentin, Kristen Harper, John Burciaga, David Eaton, Patrica Jiménez, Egbert Ethelred Brown, Jose Ballester, Susan Newman Moore…

Beloved classmates:

When you feel alone or unsure, reach out. The ancestors and your fellow graduates have your back. We are forever joined by our sharing of the Meadville experience.

When your call is questioned, stand firm. ‘Your call is your business’ and no one knows it better than you. Your ministry is needed in our divided, chaotic world. Your passion and steadfastness will inspire those feeling doubt or despair. Listen to the yearnings that propelled you through internships, intensives and countless trips away from home. Your call fueled your commitment. Own it!

When you are tired, rest. Return to the practices that bring you joy and laughter. Relish in relationships that nurture your soul. Remember you are not called to be superhuman. You are called to love and to service maintaining healthy boundaries around your personal time and needs. Take care for yourself so you can be energized for the sacred work of ministry.

When you are denied opportunity, be relentless in the face of obstacles. Know that you are enough, you are called, you are wise and your ministry is needed!

When you see injustice, act. Remember the ancestors who persevered and paved the way for us. There has been progress, but there is still much work to do. And, you are not working alone.

All of us leave Meadville equipped to use our skills and voices to be catalysts for justice. Your leadership and prophetic voice will mobilize and reenergize congregations and communities in their justice work.  

As we leave this place, may we know that we are enough;
That our call is to service, not perfection.
May we go forth in humility and curiosity, held by the ancestors and the family, friends and mentors that supported us on this journey.
May we love radically. Work joyfully. And rest unapologetically when needed.

Beloved graduates, we’ve got this! Let’s get to work!”

President Lee Barker reflected after the ceremony:

“With a stop at Meadville Lombard where they received deep academic and practical formation, they are uniquely equipped to carry their own dreams into the future and to support us as we strive to create a better world of our dreams. For me, the certainty that the new world will be born is renewed every year with the promise of each graduating class. Our 26 new graduates will bring to our world their passions, dreams, and the gifts of their spiritual leadership. They remind us that we can climb mountains that we once thought were too high. They encourage us to hope in times of despair. It is all of us for whom our graduates live, and it is for all of us that the entire community at Meadville Lombard does our work.”

The celebration began the night before with the Vespers service that the graduates planned in the theme of fierce love, and the pre-commencement dinner where the honorary degree recipients offered their insights and wisdom.

At the end of the evening, Andre Mol, one of the graduates, gave a moving Benediction. They showed a string tied to their wrist: it was given during their first class at Meadville Lombard years ago. They had thought that the string would break in a few weeks, but it stayed on their wrist for the whole time they were at Meadville Lombard. “We are bound together, our spirits are tied together. I will cut this string after this weekend, and sew a heart with it on my new stole so I can carry all of you with me in my ministry.”

Yes, the bond and support of Meadville Lombard Learning Community extend far beyond graduation. We are so proud of our alums and their ministry. We look forward to following their ministerial path, as they walk the circuitous route.