EDS Welcomes Largest Distributive Learning Class in its History; The Rev. Frank Fornaro '96 Delivers Matriculation Address

June 11, 2014 (Cambridge, MA)-- Episcopal Divinity School welcomed its largest-ever class of Distributive Learning students this week, as 14 students matriculated in the school's historic St. John's Memorial Chapel. EDS's Distributive Learning program is an innovative low-residency program that allows students to earn a Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Theological Studies, or Doctor of Ministry degree by taking online courses during the fall and spring terms, as well as intensive courses on the EDS campus during two week terms in January and June.

Designed for students who feel called to pursue a seminary education, but who are unable to relocate to a seminary setting for a traditional Fall and Spring term residential program, the Distributive Learning option emphasizes small group formation and education, with regular interaction among students and faculty and an intentional focus on theological reflection and sharing practical experience in ministry, whether lay or ordained. 

The Distributive Learning class entering in June 2014 comes to EDS from 11 states and provinces in the United States and Canada. Geographically, students hail from states ranging from Maine to Hawaii, and from Florida to California. The class includes members of the Episcopal Church, the Metropolitan Community Church, and the United Church of Christ, and includes several candidates for ordination in their respective denominations. 

The Matriculation Service is a longstanding EDS tradition, with new students signing a matriculation book, and with faculty processing in full academic regalia. These traditions signify EDS's committment to the matriculating students, and the students' entry into a community of academic study and spiritual formation. 

The Rev. Frank Fornaro '96, Interim Director of Theological Field Education, delivered the Matriculation Address to students, alumni/ae, faculty, staff, and friends who gathered in St. John's Memorial Chapel for the service. The text of Fornaro's Metriculation Address can be read below.

 

Matriculation Address
Given by The Rev. Frank Fornaro '96
in St. John's Memorial Chapel at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts
June 11, 2014

Dean Ragsdale, Dean Bauer-Levesque, Dean Gelfer, Faculty, Staff, Returning Students, Parents, Friends, and Matriculating Students, I am honored to welcome you to Episcopal Divinity School.

I am sure you’ve been welcomed many times since Sunday. Today we all participate with you in a liturgical welcome. This celebration of your presence here marks an important part of your life’s journey and an important part of your lifetime of learning.  And it also marks an important part in the journey and life of Episcopal Divinity School. When you sign the book you join hundreds who preceded you. At the same time you sign that book, EDS commits itself to you.

In 1993, I sat there at Matriculation with my own basket of emotions: excitement, wonder, nervousness. I wondered what it would be like to be here and be studying churchy things. I wonder what emotions you are experiencing now. I don’t remember much of the exact words of the matriculation address given by Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett. I do remember the cordial and welcoming tone of encouragement and support she offered. I also remember her sharing the etymology of the word seminary, which I thought was interesting, funny, and telling.  Today, I encourage you to consider the matriculation and its womb-like history to think of EDS as a place of nurture, growth, hope, and joy.

One thing I learned pretty quickly was that everything I was learning here was more than preparing for a particular ministry but this learning was a major factor in my human formation.  All the lessons and all the faculty were helping me be more of myself than I had ever been.  It was not easy. I was fifty. I came here pretty clear about most situations and most things in the world. For instance, in my mind, I was a certified, died in the wool feminist. I learned pretty quickly, with the help of faculty and the community of students-- especially the women-- that I had a lot to learn about that still minimally addressed area of justice. When I started here the Foundations course didn’t exist; I wish it had. It is a great way to develop a frame of mind to see the world through different lenses. Instead my first lesson in feminism came from a hands-on experience.

I believe EDS has been and continues to be the vanguard school of the church, and not only the church but also a vanguard in places in the world where there is injustice and oppression of so many kinds. I believe what EDS offers us is strength, wisdom, and courage to go into the world equipped to speak a language of redemption and freedom for all people.

What is offered here is a radical way to understand the world and a radical invitation to act.  What is offered here will be new for some people, perhaps, and not new for others, but convictions of justice and true peace will be affirmed and strengthened. 

What is offered for some is a new way to see the world. New challenges of faith and understanding. These challenges may frighten or even anger some. Imagine showing up here at age 50 and discovering that Jesus was probably not born on December 25th, or that God doesn’t have gender and even more mind boggling not a gender like mine. 

I was confused many times by the new language I hearing. Words tossed about as if everyone understood them. Found out that most people did but not me: hermeneutic, exegesis, periscope. I didn’t even understand the definitions when I looked them up in the dictionary. Eventually, though, with the help of faculty and student colleagues, I got it.

There were so many things that challenged my preconceived notions that I went home confused about something everyday for a long time. By the way, it still happens and I’m grateful to God, the Divine, that I still have wonder and I still feel open.

There are a few things I think are important to say to you (to everyone here) but especially to the new students and since I have the podium, here they are. 

First, be open. Recognize there are many wonderful and powerful things you bring here with you but be open to what may be new, what may be challenging. Be open to new ways of thinking and exploring. Don’t be afraid to challenge your own preconceived ideas of what is right and what is wrong. There is an expression used quite often at CREDO (a wellness program of the church) that says there is more than one right way. Remember that as you study here.

See yourself in your own future. Imagine yourselves as ministers and leaders in the various avenues into which the Holy Spirit is calling you. This time at EDS and all that it offers is not only a time for intellectual challenge and growth but also a time for personal and spiritual growth. It is in the broad formative experiences that you could be transformed day-to-day, year-to-year. Some of you are leaders already in your various work in the world. The notion of leadership in this seemingly callous 21st century of consumerism and ownership must be challenged by us all. Jesus was the supreme model of a leadership style that works. His style worked in every wherever he ventured.  In only three years he changed the thinking of the world he was in. What was his style? Compassion. The one consistent approach he used in every single interaction whether threatening or pastoral was compassion. We have seen it since in Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jonathan Daniels, and I’m sure you can name others living and dead. Allow what you learn here from your teachers and from one another to build a deeper, broader commitment to compassion in all things. Pray everyday in whatever way you reach out beyond yourself.

Look across the way at the faculty and staff that will serve you during your time here. They are dedicated to your potential. They will become your teachers, mentors and friends. You can trust them to care for your learning but more importantly they will care for you as persons. They wise and knowledgeable, they are full of compassion and joy. They love what they do and they will work with you and for you. They are committed to your success.

I could speak forever about this wonderful school but Miriam said I only had ten minutes. I want to tell you how much this place changed my life and the lives of so many I know. I want to tell you that it wasn’t easy but it was truly worth it. I want to tell you that I love EDS and all it has to offer, I love its potential to change each of us, I love its potential to change the world. And now you have come here to give it further strength, further commitment and further joy.

I heard a preacher ask this question: What does God want? The answer is to make community. At Morning Prayer today, Monte offered the Psalm 133 and we have shared it again (a different version). And now with you and through you and with all those affiliated here, EDS becomes a new community. You with all those of the past with those who are here now and with those who will join us in the future, make EDS a new community. Together, let’s continue the great tradition of EDS as a place of learning, a place that cries for justice, a place that prepares ministers (lay and ordained) that are inspired to change the world. Together, we can really do it.  

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, the Administration, Faculty, Staff, and Students past and present, I welcome you to EDS.  I pray you have joy here, that you increase in wisdom and curiosity and that you hear the loving voice of the Holy Spirit as she sings encouragement, as she cheers you on, as she lifts you up and carries you into the next years and all the years to follow.

God Bless you.