BANGOR, Maine — Beth Rogers began looking for a deeper spiritual encounter with God while still in junior high school.
Rogers, 54, of Bangor marked a milestone Wednesday in her own journey with Christ when she received a Master of Arts degree in theology from Grace Evangelical College & Seminary.
A Farmington native, Rogers began attending the small school on Odlin Road in Bangor four years ago.
“I had worked with children teaching Sunday School, but over the years, I’d felt a yearning to work with adults,” Rogers said Monday. “I’m very interested in Christian spiritual formation.
“I define that as growth in people’s faith through prayer practices, through learning to love God, knowing how deeply God loves us, being drawn to him because of his love, and, also recognizing who we are and being willing to be changed and transformed into the image of Christ,” she said.
Rogers, who would like to assist others in their spiritual journeys with Christ, said that she tried an online seminary but that did not work for her lifestyle or her ecumenical background, which included attending United Methodist, Assembly of God and Congregational churches.
“I think the richness of having been in different denominations and walking with really authentic believers in those different denominations has helped me to not get set in just one kind of view of the Scripture,” she said.
Experiences in different churches also helped form where she’s headed in helping others on their own spiritual journeys.
“Although [denominational] doctrine is important, it’s relational to your relationship with Christ,” she said. “Spiritual formation and direction is not being stagnant in a set of beliefs. It is about having that breathe through everything you are and having it inform the decisions that you make about the way you live your life every day and growing in that. It’s about honoring each other as God’s creation and seeing the wonder in who other people are, no matter who they are, and learning to love really well.”
Wednesday’s graduation ceremony was held at Rogers’ church, All Souls Congregational Church, located on the corner of Broadway and State Street in Bangor. It is the first time the school’s graduation has been held before a United Church of Christ congregation.
“I’m excited that it’s here,” Rogers said Monday. “It means a lot to me to have it here because the people of this church prayed for me every week during intercessory prayers, and I’ve felt very supported and cared about and encouraged. It means alot to me to bring my church and the school that I attend together.”
The Rev. Lyman “Terry” Phillips, president of Grace, said Wednesday that the school traditionally holds its graduation at the home church of a graduate. In the past, it has been held at Bangor Baptist Church, United Baptist Church in Old Town, Veazie Congregational Church and Grace Bible Church in Holden.
Holding its graduation at All Souls, one of the largest and oldest congregations in northern Maine, seemed to be a step into the mainstream for the small institution viewed as more involved with independent evangelical churches than those affiliated with mainline denominations. It also could be a sign of the role Grace might play in educating men and women for ministry.
Bangor Theological Seminary will hold its last graduation next month. The seminary, located on the Husson University campus since 2005 and associated with the UCC, was founded in 1814.
Phillips said that it was too early to tell if the small college and seminary founded in 2001 would be able to fill the void left by the closure of BTS. Phillips, who is credentialed by the American Baptist Church and the UCC, said the school is slowly working toward accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools.
“Theological education is in a real upheaval right now,” the Rev. Dr. James Haddix of All Souls said after the graduation ceremony. “I hope Grace will become accredited and I pray they will be able to provide pastors for the church in Maine. There is a great need for educated clergy.”
At the ceremony, Steven George Brakey earned a Master of Arts degree in theology. Stephen Robert Kenerson and Michael Wayne Page earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in ministry. Charyl Lynn Chandler Stevens received a Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in chaplaincy.