OLD TOWN, Maine — A decade after it was founded in the conference room of a Bangor church, Grace Evangelical College and Seminary on Wednesday awarded its first Master of Divinity degree to John Leslie Buhr.
Buhr, 46, of Orono is being considered for the pastorship of a Newport church, he said after being awarded his degree. The graduation service was held at Buhr’s home church, United Baptist in Old Town.
A Master of Divinity degree, known as an M.Div. in theological circles, is required by most denominations for ordination.
Buhr works as a certified nursing assistant in Orono. He began taking classes at Grace Evangelical in 2006.
“I went to the seminary because it was in a practical location for me,” he said. “I also felt we shared a lot of the same ideas, beliefs and theology.”
Two men also were awarded their Bachelor of Arts degrees in biblical studies at the service. Phillip Gene Dow Jr., 39, of Burlington and Douglas Edmund Towle 42, of Palmyra plan to continue their education but on different paths.
Dow is a Bangor firefighter-paramedic based at the station on Hogan Road and a member of the Maine Army National Guard. He plans to take online courses from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., to earn his M.Div. and become a military chaplain.
“I felt this would be the best way for me to serve,” Dow said. “I can’t go against what I believe, but as a military chaplain, I’d be serving people of all faiths.”
Towle is a truck driver, who took six years to earn his degree.
“I’ve felt a call from God often in my adult life, but it’s taken me a long time to get around to answering it,” he said. “Grace [Evangelical] really was an answer to a prayer because it gave me an opportunity to pursue this.”
Towle said he wants to pursue the ministry, but is unsure whether that means serving as a pastor or looking in another direction.
“It feels good,” President W. Lyman “Terry” Phillips said of the Grace Evangelical’s 10-year milestone after Wednesday’s graduation service. “It feels as if we are finally getting into the task.”
Grace Evangelical was founded as a mission of Bangor Baptist Church, an independent congregation, on Outer Broadway. The church in 2001 gave the fledgling school and seminary $25,000 in seed money and use of classrooms at Bangor Christian Schools.
The college and seminary was organized in an effort to offer a more conservative theological education than is offered at Bangor Theological Seminary, Phillips said in 2001.
Over the past nine years, the seminary has grown from offering a few classes to a handful of students to 50 students enrolled in a dozen classes this spring, according to Phillips. Three years ago, the school bought 1.8 acres and a 5,000-square-foot building at 502 Odlin Road, where it now is located.
Grace Evangelical’s vision statement includes increasing enrollment to between 200 and 250 students each semester and faculty from six part-time to 10 full-time members, adding extension sites and a Doctor of Ministry degree, developing an endowment, and gaining full accreditation from the Association of Biblical Higher Education.