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Today in the Mission Yearbook

‘Lean in and look up’


Two retiring University of Dubuque administrators inspire seminary graduates with their commencement talks

July 12, 2024

Photo by Sincerely Media via Unsplash

Dr. Mark Ward and the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Bullock, two retiring administrators at the University of Dubuque, were anything but retiring when they recently spoke to graduates during commencement exercises at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary with passion and honesty.

Watch the 71-minute commencement ceremony here.

Ward, the featured speaker, retired this summer after 14 years as the university’s vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of the faculty. Bullock, the university’s president since 1998, stepped down and was succeeded by Dr. Travis L. Frampton on June 1.

Ward challenged the nearly two dozen 2024 graduates “to move forward with two guiding commitments as you serve the church.”

The first is to “lean in and listen for the Holy Spirit.”

“It takes a discerning ear to hear what God is telling us through the groanings of Creation, of humanity, of the very Spirit itself,” Ward said. “You leave seminary with a trained ear. The professional musicians among you know that they go through extensive ear training. … So, too, you have a trained ear that can listen for and recognize God at work in the world.”

Dr. Mark Ward

“You don’t groan alone,” he told graduates. “God is present in and knows our challenges, even when we don’t have the words to name them.”

The second commitment is to “look up and live in resurrection hope.”

“The Bible often refers to God’s people as sheep,” creatures “who are physiologically programmed to look down,” Ward said. “Looking up is the shepherd’s job, and you have been called to shepherd God’s people … Your theological education has equipped you to see beyond today, to see today in light of God’s grand plan to reconcile all things to himself. Commit to looking up and living in the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The world needs new leaders “to be authentic Christ-followers, neither callous to the problems of today nor defeated by those problems, a Christ-follower who’s fully present in the brokenness of this world,” Ward said. “We have the good news. We know how the story ends. Your seminary education has equipped you to live more expectantly. Look up! Be that beacon of hope to a world in need.”

The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Bullock

As a child in a non-churched family, Bullock came to the faith via Vacation Bible School at a Presbyterian congregation in Omaha, Nebraska. “A funny thing happened along the way,” Bullock said. “I felt at home, loved and cared for, and I asked to go again the following year. From that time through high school, I attended church off and on by myself.”

Bullock told those planning to serve in pastoral ministry about the congregation they will serve. “Do you believe for one moment they’ve gotten themselves out of bed that morning to come to church to hear you or me offer our thoughts about the latest trends in Marxist biblical thought or the essential tenets of Christian nationalism? That’s not why they’re there. They’re there because they’re hoping to get a sense of and a feeling of the transcendent.”

“That’s what your congregation, that’s what your ministry, that’s what your outreach wants and needs from you and from us,” he said. “Whether it’s a group of 20 or 2,000, they are hoping against hope that through you they will meet Jesus that day.”

“So, this is my charge to you: In whatever your ministry, dare to be a pastor. Dare to listen — really listen. Dare to be fully present and not encumbered by the things around you. Dare to suffer and dare not to have all the answers. Dare to be one through whom a beautiful, broken and fractured community of seekers can come to be believers and experience the presence of Jesus in their lives. Amen.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Dr. Mark Ward and the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Bullock University of Dubuque administrators inspire seminary graduates

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Monica Maeyer, Director, Communications, Board of Pensions 
Peter Maher, Vice President & Managing Director, Investments, Board of Pensions 

Let us pray

Open our eyes, O God, to see your way. And if our eyes aren’t ready to see, open our hearts to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Keep pointing us in the right direction. We want to answer your call, our Rock and our redeemer. Amen.