By Holly McCray
On Aug. 19, five women and men will become the first graduates of Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University.
Each will receive a Master of Divinity degree, which requires 90 credit hours. Together they are completing a unique three-year journey at the only United Methodist-affiliated seminary in Oklahoma.
They will always carry the distinction of being the seminary’s first graduating class. Yet proclaiming "We’re Number One" doesn’t emerge among these five. They are focused on proclaiming Christ for all.
|Commencement, 4 p.m. Aug. 19, OKC-St.Luke’s. Bishop Hayes preaching. Public welcome. Internet live streaming link at: www.okumc.org.
AnnaMarie George has known since high school of God’s call on her life. "I came to a point where I was ready to quit running" from that call, she said. "My husband asked what took so long."
She learned Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo., was launching the satellite seminary at OCU. But she doubted women or older students were admitted. Cost was a factor.
A Saint Paul recruiter countered her concerns. Enrollment: more than 50 percent female. Average age: 45. Sponsors help with costs.
At an information meeting, she observed the crowd was 75 percent female. "OK, God, I don’t have any more excuses," she admitted.
"A lot of peace came over me when I got at the spot where I was ready to go to seminary," she said.
Rev. George was appointed pastor at OKC-Linwood in June.
David Gardner had started Course of Study through Saint Paul in Kansas City, Mo., when he learned plans were advancing for a UM seminary in the state.
"There’s a joy in going deeper," he said. "I had gotten in enough, and the water was fine. Learning about God and Church and the Kingdom of God: it’s a privilege and a joy."
Saint Paul’s emphasis on Town & Country ministry had drawn him to Kansas City from his southwest Oklahoma home. News of the satellite at OCU was "a big God smile" upon his calling.
"In seminary, they peel you like an onion, purposefully, challenging your core, your spiritually held values. They want you to examine that God-spark within your heart," said Rev. Gardner. "It’s tough work to be peeled apart. At the end, those parts are put back together, stronger because of your experience."
Today he most often turns to the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. He uses an e-book reader, a gift from Grandfield UMC.
He is deeply grateful to his sponsors; his seminary debts are fully paid. "Now it’s our job to pay it forward," Gardner said.
David and Jana Gardner—and their dogs, Lectionary and Epiphany—moved in June. He now serves Anadarko-First and Verden.
Tari Carbaugh recalled completing her bachelor’s degree some 16 years ago. She was the single mom of a 3-year-old. That child anchored her faith.
"I knew I must be loved by God or He wouldn’t trust me with a child," she said. "That was my first call to ministry. At that point, I wanted everybody to know how much God loves them."
Yet she was quiet for years about her call. During preparations for the Mrs. Bartlesville Pageant, she finally confided in a friend.
Doors opened. And Saint Paul at OCU made sense to this "Okie."
"In the beginning at seminary, I had an idea that everybody was kind of one-way about what they believe," Rev. Carbaugh said.
"God created huge diversity; there have to be diverse ways to understand and worship God. Now my eyes are so open. That’s my favorite change in me through seminary."
She was commissioned at the 2011 Annual Conference. For the next year, she will serve as assistant director of Recruitment and Advancement for Saint Paul at OCU. Tari and Kent Carbaugh and their daughters live in Dewey.
Already serving a church, Felecia Hensley returned to school after 30 years. For a time, three family members were on the OCU campus concurrently.
Now only the son remains. The daughter graduated in May, and Rev. Hensley completed her seminary work. She was commissioned at the 2011 Annual Conference. She has pastored at Cashion since 2008. The Hensleys live in Edmond. "I was able to study without being away from my family for days at a time," she said. The seminary’s proximity to home reduced costs, too.
Rev. Hensley described the Saint Paul at OCU classes as high-level, more challenging, and more rewarding academically than she had expected. And because she did not grow up United Methodist, the doctrinal classes were invaluable.
A worship class "completely redid" the pastor’s approach to the service’s format. She grew far beyond "find a prayer, find a litany."
Her professor "helped us think of worship planning as an organic whole out of a whole season, not just a single service," Hensley said.
On graduation day in August, the Hensleys will celebrate in their special way: sharing ice cream.
Nathan Mills, pastor at Temple and Comanche, is happy to be done writing theological papers.
"I can hear angels singing the Doxology," he joked recently.
Yet the clergyman seriously appreciates Saint Paul at OCU.
Rev. Mills had secured a full scholarship at Candler seminary in Atlanta. But his wife, Kelly, a licensed therapist in Oklahoma, could not find work. The couple moved back to Oklahoma.
Then a district superintendent asked Mills to serve a church.
"I’d never preached or even spoken in public my entire life!" Mills exclaimed. ‘I thought: No way. I need to go to seminary first."
Kelly didn’t have the same response. They prayed together.
Mills’ first sermon, on a Palm Sunday, was about 3 minutes long.
His call has developed at seminary. Classes on the theology of John Wesley and Dietrich Bonhoeffer helped him put his calling into words. Pastor Sam Powers has been a longtime mentor.
"My vision for ministry propels me out of being self-conscious," Mills said.
His sermons are longer, too. "Ten minutes; never 20," he noted.
"I’m so glad we have the school here," said this member of the first-ever graduating class. "It’s been like making the first chocolate cake in the first universe for the very first time. We are trying to be available to the next class. Bonds happen here that we’ll use in our Conference. I think it’s going to be huge.