By Toya Richards Hill
Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary students, faculty and staff marked the start of a brand new academic year with an opening convocation Sept. 4 that challenged all to live lives that embody total praise.
“A life of total praise is a holistic one, wherein the complete self is developed for the ultimate purpose of discerning and fulfilling God’s will for all of God’s creation,” said Louisville Seminary professor Dr. Debra J. Mumford. “Let us all seek to embody total praise in our lives.”
It was a poignant message spoken to those gathered at the Frank H. and Fannie W. Caldwell Chapel to open the 156th academic year at the Seminary. The ceremony also included the installation of Dr. Mumford as the Frank H. Caldwell Assistant Professor of Homiletics.
“Today we celebrate the inauguration of our new year,” said Dr. Dean K. Thompson, Louisville Seminary president. “This is a fresh beginning.”
The Seminary’s annual rite of matriculation welcomed new students and employees alike to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) institution. This year’s incoming fall class of master level students includes 30 students enrolled in the Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree program, seven in the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy (MAMFT) degree program, and four in the Master of Arts in Religion (MA) program.
Mumford, an ordained minister in the American Baptist Church, came to Louisville Seminary from a full background of academic and ministerial service. She has served as associate minister at Parks Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Formosan United Methodist Church, and Church By the Side of the Road, all of which are in Northern California.
Mumford also served as youth outreach coordinator for the Chaplaincy to the Homeless in Berkeley, Calif.; director of operations for the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif.; and director of recruitment and admissions at both Pacific School of Religion and the American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley, Calif.
“She brings strong gifts to our community,” Thompson said of Mumford, who joined the Louisville Seminary faculty in the fall of 2007.
Using the gospel song, Total Praise, by Richard Smallwood and the twelfth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans as the basis for her convocation address, Mumford emphasized the importance of thinking communally as one lives a life of total praise for God.
“For Paul, following Christ was a communal journey in which all members of the community sought the will of God together, where community members grew in knowledge of God together, and where they sought to do what was right together,” she said. “How can we understand God’s will if we ignore parts of Christ’s body?”
“The first step for us in embodying a life a total praise is rejecting our narcissistic brand of Christianity in favor of a communal one. Paul and other first century followers of Christ would be extremely curious about our twenty-first century individualistic culture wherein we espouse rugged individualism and a pull-ourselves-up-by-the-bootstraps mentality.” Mumford said. “My challenge is for us to understand that our interconnectedness should extend beyond Christendom, even beyond humanity, to include all of God’s creation.”
Mumford urged the group to think about its interconnectedness with people from other lands and languages, many of whom face harsh economic realities such as low wages and abusive working conditions.
The new Louisville Seminary professor also stressed how critical it is to include the environment when thinking communally.
“A life of total praise affirms interconnectedness and interdependence of all of God’s creation,” Mumford said. “A life of total praise denies the notion of humanity as the center of the universe wherein nature exists to fulfill all human desires.”
“A life of total praise acknowledges God’s capacity to love beyond all human understanding.”
To listen to or read Dr. Mumford’s address in its entirety, visit: Chapel Sermons Blog