BUIES CREEK -- Sharon Thompson calls herself “a burn overcomer” who wants to help others become whole again. Attorney Chris Allen said he doesn’t have a law practice as much as a law ministry. Joshua Hobgood is following in his father’s footsteps -- and even taking a class with him this semester. And Brandon McLauchlin and Terrance Whitehead are childhood friends who both aspire to be pastors.
All have different stories and all took different paths, but all were among the nearly 40 new students welcomed into the Campbell University Divinity School on Sept. 18, during its Fall 2012 Service of Convocation and Commissioning at J. Clyde Turner Auditorium.
The Divinity School has been holding the ceremony since its founding in 1996 to mark the commissioning of Divinity School students as they begin their pursuit of graduate theological education and to celebrate their call to serve God in ministry. During Tuesday’s ceremony, each of the 35 Master of Divinity students, two Master of Arts in Christian Ministry students, and two Doctor of Ministry students new to Campbell Divinity received a pin. A replica of the Celtic cross, it symbolizes the school’s commitment to Christ-centered, Bible-based and ministry-focused theological education.
The Rev. Faithe C. Beam, Campbell’s campus minister, delivered the keynote Charge to the Students, which she titled “The Highest Call.” Drawing on John 15:1-8, she encouraged the students to abide by Christ. “The highest calling finds its meaning in our commitment to abide by Christ,” she said. “Claim the promise of God’s presence in Christ and seek to abide deeply in him. Jesus said, ‘I am the vine. You are the branches. Abide in me, as I abide in you.’”
Here’s a look at several of the new students in the Divinity School—and how and why they ended up there.
Nineteen years ago, when Sharon Thompson was in her early 30s, nearly half of her body was burnt during a domestic violence incident. On the way to the hospital in the ambulance, she overdosed on morphine. At the time, Thompson was a single mother of a daughter who was not even yet a year old.
“It was traumatic,” she said.
At first, Thompson saw herself as a victim; she had been hurt and victimized, and she was just trying to make it to the next day. Then, she became a survivor.
“To me, a survivor is someone just existing,” she said. “So, I was just getting by. I was taking care of my daughter, but I was still angry and mad and bitter.”
Eventually, after years on a journey of healing and recovery, she became an overcomer.
“At that point, I was able to forgive, and I was able to let go and let God take over,” she said. “When I became an overcomer, I was able to reach out and help others.”
To help others, she became a SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) counselor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she works with patients in the burn center. She also founded the Fayetteville-based Integrity Ministries.
“Integra means to be made whole, and this ministry is a place where people can come to be made whole,” Thompson said.
That process largely begins by getting people comfortable to open up about their experiences and to talk about what they’ve been through and what they’re going through.
“A lot of people will suppress what is going on inside them, and they won’t share their story,” she said. So, she said, she lets her scars serve as a testimony or a witness. “We all have scars. Many people have internal scars; my scars happen to be external. When they see my external scars, they may be able to relate and start to talk about their internal scars. Then we take them through the Word, so they can become more whole.
“It’s a journey, and it takes time.”
The next phase of Thompson’s journey is what brought her to Campbell’s Master of Divinity program. She wanted to attend a diverse divinity school that taught the whole Bible. More so, she wanted to be part of a school that provided an education that aligned with her journey to help others.
“I came because I thought it was the place I was supposed to be—that it would help me to help others,” she said.
Chris Allen of Raleigh has been a lawyer for the past 20 years—13 of those with the state of North Carolina and the past seven as a self-employed general practicing attorney.
But, as he tells people, “I don’t have a law practice as much as I have a law ministry.” His practice, he said, is an outgrowth of his faith. “A big part of my work is helping other people.”
He also has served in various leadership capacities at his church, Temple Baptist in Raleigh, for the past two decades, including as an ordained deacon and an adult Sunday school teacher.
So, he said, it was a natural progression for him to enroll into Campbell’s Master of Arts in Christian Ministry program, though he’s leaving his options open to complete the Master of Divinity program.
“I’m here because I was convicted that God has something more in mind for me,” Allen said.
Because he has classes on Monday afternoons and evenings and on Tuesday mornings, Allen is able to continue to practice law on a nearly full-time schedule— one of the reasons he was drawn to Campbell.
The other: “The first time I came here to visit, I really felt at home,” he said.
“At my advancing age, I don’t know yet what God has in plan for me, so I’m just taking it one day at a time,” he added. “I’m sure God is going to disclose his need to me at his time. Right now, I just know I’m in the right place at the right time.”
The father and son
If Joshua Hobgood forgets a reading or homework assignment for his Old Testament II course, he has a classmate he can go to refresh his memory: his father, Ronnie.
A full-time pastor of the First Free Will Baptist Church in La Grange, N.C., Ronnie began to pursue his Master of Arts in Christian Education at Campbell on a part-time basis in January 2007. Now, he’s in his final year of the program (now the Master of Arts in Christian Ministry), and one of his classes this semester is with his son, Joshua, who began the Master of Divinity program this fall.
“It’s unique,” Ronnie said.
“It’s fun, or funny,” Joshua said.
Ronnie was on the board of the N.C. Foundation for Christian Ministries when it began looking to partner with divinity schools and seminaries to help encourage church leaders within the Free Will Baptist denomination to pursue graduate theological education. “I had always wanted to go to divinity school, and I knew if I was going to sit on that foundation’s board at that time, I should set an example,” said Ronnie, who has been a pastor for about 35 years.
As a full-time pastor and a part-time student, Ronnie has taken about six to seven credit hours each semester. It was the ability to simultaneously work and attend school that also drew his son to Campbell’s Divinity School. Joshua is the youth minister and on his father’s staff at First Free Will Baptist Church.
“I’m sort of following in my father’s footsteps, but it’s more that Campbell was the right fit for me,” Joshua said. “Campbell gives us the chance to do what we’re doing in the ministry while furthering our education.”
The school also offers a practical education, Ronnie added. “What this school is really gifted at is the practical side of ministry.” Through his studies, Ronnie said he has become a better administrator and has learned, for example, how to deal with conflict within the church in a more positive way. In one of his courses, he also developed a worship and sermon series on celebrating the advent season, which he implemented at his church the following year. It’s such practicality that Ronnie hopes his son, Joshua, will experience, too.
“This has been a wonderful and helpful experience for me, and I anticipate it will be the same for Josh,” Ronnie said. “And this commissioning service—the celebration of his preparations for his vision for ministry—will be a memorable day that I will never forget, just as I’ll never forget my own.”
The lifelong friends
Being a pastor was the furthest thing from the minds of Brandon McLauchlin and Terrance Whitehead when they were growing up. In fact, the lifelong friends said, they even remember teasing a girl in their Sunday school class for her enthusiasm for the class.
“We grew up going to church, but we never thought we would go far with it and end up here,” Whitehead said.
Here is at Campbell as first-year Master of Divinity students.
McLauchlin grew up in Pennsylvania, but he spent his summer with family in Fayetteville, where he got to know Whitehead through their church, New Bethel AME Zion.
The pastor there, Campbell Divinity School alumnus Rev. Chalmers McDougald, encouraged the two to pursue a ministry-focused theological education.
“He—that church—was real strong on education,” Whitehead said. Both attended Fayetteville State University; and when they visited Campbell Divinity, the school felt like the right fit. “There was a genuineness here,” Whitehead said. “And the program is ministry-focused, which was important to us, and it will provide us with an avenue to reach our goals.”
McLauchlin’s goal is be a pastor of a church, and Whitehead is working toward to becoming a military chaplain. A member of the ROTC program at Fayetteville State, Whitehead is in the U.S. Army Reserves and recently submitted his paperwork to be an army chaplain candidate.
“When we were kids, we never expected we would be here together,” McLauchlin said. “But our church encouraged us, and we have each other for support. It’s kind of neat, and it’s a great honor.”
Story by Cherry Crayton
Photo: Sharon Thompson said she chose Campbell Divinity because she wanted to be part of a school that aligned with her journey to help others.