Alumni Focus: Coming Home to IWS

Grace Episcopal Church in Orange Park warmly greets friends old and new with the phrase, “Welcome home!” Alumni experience that and more when they return to IWS for Commencement, a worship seminar, or to worship in chapel or a practicum service. Beyond the warmth of community, being back on campus is an experience of “anamnesis” that is unique because of the work of transformation in lives through Jesus Christ that is not atypical in this place. Here are testimonies from two alums who were back on campus in June. Janie Blough and her husband Neal serve at the Paris Mennonite Center in Saint-Maurice, France. Martha Garmon is Minister of Worship and Music at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Palatine, IL.

Precious Moments of Reminiscence and Reflection

Janie Blough, D.W.S., Rho 2014; M.W.S., Beth 2006

Janie_BloughHaving begun studies in 2004 and completed both the master and doctoral programs, it should be obvious that IWS has played an important and formative role in my life and ministry for a very long time. Appropriated learning and insights will impact me and my ministry in France for the rest of my life.

To be back on campus for Commencement and experience once again the ethos of the IWS community provided precious moments of reminiscence and reflection. Towering over all of these thoughts was a sense of profound gratitude for the long-term commitment of faculty, administration, and staff who remain faithful to their missional call and task to train and care for future worship leaders from all over the world. Their ongoing work to accompany students through the joys, challenges, and pitfalls of the journey at IWS, as well as their encouragement to embody servant leadership as modeled by Christ, is a strong testimony of their desire to serve God and edify God’s Church in all its diversity. The privilege of sitting in on two classes, discussions with several faculty members, and worshiping in chapel reaffirmed the formative nature of the IWS experience. It was a great joy to observe the increased number of JanieBlough06-14internationals in the student body. A microcosm of the worldwide Church seems to be on the doorstep of IWS in a visible manner. What a wonderful gift and opportunity to engage in conversation and missiological reflection about worship and worship renewal with brothers and sisters from the global Church! The IWS community is able to express its unity in Christ in the midst of diversity and point to the cultural, counter-cultural, and cross-cultural nature of worship that transcends any and all borders and contexts.

The description of the DWS study program states: “All studies are geared toward the mission of the church to give witness to God’s redeeming work in the world and to fulfill the mandate of the Great Commission.” Part of this mandate is making disciples of all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The other part is teaching disciples to obey everything the Lord has commanded. In my mind, worship and worship renewal is an important part of this teaching ministry. IWS has played an integral role in the manner in which I am humbly attempting to fulfill this call and ministry in France. May IWS, its faculty, administration and staff be blessed as they endeavor to fulfill God’s call and mission in their lives and work! May IWS continue to be a blessing to its students, to the worldwide Church and, indeed, to the nations!

Like Coming Home

Martha Garmon, D.W.S., Phi 2012

marthagarmonI returned this June to the IWS campus for the first time since graduating two years ago. Two members of our Phi cohort were graduating as well as friends from previous classes. I used the worship seminar as an excuse to return to campus, but the underlying reason was to see my IWS family once again. And, of course, it didn’t hurt that Michael Hawn was the presenter. Upon landing at Jacksonville airport, I felt a rising excitement to be back at IWS which only grew once we turned onto Kingsley Avenue. Staying at the Club Continental was wonderful as it allowed me to walk to campus each morning and enjoy the atmosphere of Orange Park once again. I had forgotten how many lizards there were and how beautiful the moss is hanging from the trees.

Attending graduation was like coming home to a family reunion, seeing all the familiar faces and embracing old friends. Even with all the new faces, in many ways it felt like I never left. Paul Neeley asked me to play along on some percussion instruments for chapel on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sitting with the band reminded me of our practicums and the joy of doing worship with people from a wide variety of backgrounds—ethnic, denominational, geographical, etc. At one point, I had a slight moment of panic as I wondered if I had been so immersed in the experience that I had forgotten that I wasn’t really supposed to be here. I was having too much fun for it all to be real.

The seminar exceeded my expectations and I came away with some new perspectives on what I do back in Illinois. Being a part of the worship seminar brought its own blessings. I made new friends that I hope to see again at another gathering. I can’t return for every seminar, but I can promise that I will return.

About the author

Alumni Director, Practicum Professor, and DWS graduate.