Graduation, Sept. 1, 2016


Article for The Current, September 2016
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
To say or write the word GRADUATION is to release a torrent of precious memories. Diplomas from high school, college, and graduate school and congratulations from friends and family come to mind. From college graduation and commencement in 1968, my sojourn runs from Arkansas to Northern Illinois to East Ohio to Michigan to Central and Southern Illinois. Within these graduations are a thousand thoughts, hundreds of emotions, and unforgettable moments sequestered in my pantheon of memories. Now that the end of my active episcopacy draws nigh at the stroke of midnight on August 31, 2016, another graduation occurs. Metaphorically speaking, I will march boldly into a new future with hope egged on by the strains of Edward Elgar’s famous March. Synonymous with most U.S. graduations, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance evokes “a complex of emotions.” The “tune manages to sound triumphant, but with an underlying quality of nostalgia, making it perfectly suited to a commencement (a graduation or retirement service) that marks the beginning of one stage of life, but the end of another.”
With a sense of triumph, I look forward to that midnight and the clock striking twelve. There will be more at stake than the joy of having “finished the course.”  Nostalgia and the standards of the Holy One will help me look back. Did my pastoral/episcopal leadership help make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? In every way and place, did I use my gifts “to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned and the stranger, give drink to the thirsty, and preach good news to the poor”? Was I a servant to all not just a selected few? Whatever accolades may have come my way over the years, our Lord will determine how well I served Christ and his church. Nevertheless, I graduate (retire) at midnight on August 31, 2016 buoyed by God’s prevenient and amazing grace and thankful for the high privilege of serving my Lord.    
Midnight, September 1, 2016, marks the beginning of a new chapter of ministry. Beverly and I await the “not yet” described in Natalie Sleeth’s Hymn of Promise. “Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” By faith, I plan to go where God sends, to learn what God would have me to learn, and to serve how God would have me serve in retirement. Come Lord Jesus!! Call me by the thunder or the lightning on the Damascus Road. “Speak so thy servant heareth” or use your “still small voice.” With no pomp and circumstance, Graduation Day and a new ministry start will come on September 1, 2016. Tell me when to say “Here I am Lord, send me.” So long IGRC! Thanks for everything!! You blessed us!!!  S.D.G.