ABHMS executive director inspires graduates at Palmer Theological Seminary’s 99th Commencement, urges their steadfast commitment to continuous spiritual development

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 06/04/2024)—Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, executive director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS), delivered an inspiring address to a rapt audience convened for Palmer Theological Seminary’s 99th Commencement May 9 at Enon Baptist Tabernacle in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Graduates of the seminary’s master’s and doctoral programs as well as those who earned certificates in ministry were honored.

“I greet you today with great joy,” Haggray began. “I sincerely congratulate you and salute you for your remarkable achievements. I pray that God’s choice blessings, wisdom, guidance and provisions will always be with each of you as you discern the call for your life today and in the future always.”

Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, 2024 Palmer Theological Seminary Commencement Speaker

Dr. Jeffrey Haggray delivers commencement address at 2024 Palmer Theological Seminary graduation.

Haggray then embarked on a reflective journey, offering insights, guidance and encouragement to the graduates as they basked in the current celebration and envisioned a future of exciting, and potentially daunting, challenges intrinsic to their vital calling.

Drawing from the Book of Isaiah, Haggray emphasized the importance of understanding how the prevailing sociopolitical context shaped the messages of Old Testament prophets. “We find that geosocial conditions and political circumstances typically informed the messages that they felt moved to speak,” he observed. Yet, interpreting sociopolitical realities often raised a dilemma for God’s spokespersons because “prophets often perceive multiple realities transpiring at the same time.”

The complexities of prophetic ministry require diligent, protracted effort from those seeking to pursue it. “For those of you embarking on the God-ordained work of employing your voice as a truth-teller in turbulent times,” said Haggray, “I encourage you to remain steadfast in the cultivation, first of your spiritual life, through prayer and through spiritual disciplines, [and then] in the ongoing cultivation of your intellect and knowledge through continued faithful study of God’s Word.” Haggray further directed his listeners to “pay careful attention to the events in your communities, the nation and the world.”

Addressing the urgency of the work ahead, Haggray underscored the importance of timely and relevant preaching: “Class of 2024, you are graduating at a time in our world that if there ever was a time we needed a word from the Lord, we sure enough need it now. It is important to know when the time calls for a pastoral word. At other times we are called to declare a priestly word, calling for peace, justice, and equity. And then there are times when nothing less than a prophetic word will speak to the needs of the community and the nation.”

Despite the inestimable value of prophetic preaching, Haggray urged his audience to proceed with caution. “[T]he prophetic word is the most complex and challenging category for us all, because not everyone has the gifts, acumen, and even the holy boldness to declare such a word,” he explained. “Often people are not receptive to prophetic words, especially if those words challenge the socioeconomic and political status quo.”

Concluding his address, Haggray powerfully reminded the graduates that they are now on a continuous trek of preparation and service. “Even as you achieve this important milestone today,” he asserted, “the work …  continues long after. The important work of ministry does not wait until you know all you feel you need to know. Not all are called to be prophets, but some are. It is a spiritual gift, a professional discipline that must be cultivated, that must be honed, it must be developed by those who possess it.”

Once Palmer Seminary leadership formally recognized the graduates, the Rev. Dr. Alyn E. Waller, a member of the Eastern University Board of Trustees and senior pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, conferred an honorary Doctor of Divinity upon Haggray for his outstanding contributions to ministry and leadership.

About Dr. Jeffrey Haggray

In his current role as the executive director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) and CEO of Judson Press, an ABHMS publication ministry, Haggray shepherds a national organization focused on, among other things, empowering leaders through continuous learning and mentorship, providing national disaster response and mobilizing volunteers to heal and transform, and championing social justice through public witness and advocacy.

Haggray also has an extensive pastoral background, including as senior minister of The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C., and service to congregations in New Jersey and Georgia. In addition, he was regional executive minister of the District of Columbia Baptist Convention for eight years, helping diverse congregations access resources to transform their communities.

Haggray holds degrees from the University of Virginia, Yale Divinity School, and Wesley Theological Seminary.

About Palmer Theological Seminary

For a century, Palmer Theological Seminary at Eastern University has prepared and equipped its students for careers as ministry professionals in accord with its motto—“The Whole Gospel for the Whole World through Whole Persons”—which encapsulates a commitment to coupling social justice with evangelism and discipleship based on Scripture. A cornerstone of the seminary is the diversity of its student body and faculty, and its graduates are widespread, working in all 50 states and more than 30 countries.

The complete Commencement Ceremony is available for viewing here, courtesy of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church (East).

American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.

American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.