Commissioning 2020 – ADC Celebrates “Unprecedented People for Unprecedented Times”

The largest audience ever for the ADC Commissioning service joined us online to celebrate the class of 2020! Held during the midst of a global pandemic where the Acadia Divinity College (ADC) community was unable to gather in person, the ceremony was held online and livestreamed around the world. In full academic regalia, ADC faculty joined the graduating class for the celebration. Although separated by distance, we gathered together as one in the Spirit.

At her first Commissioning Service as President of Acadia Divinity College, Rev. Dr. Anna Robbins welcomed all who attended – in time zones spanning from noon to midnight, from western Canada to the Czech Republic – to celebrate and send out the graduating students with God’s blessing on their ministry. Dr. Robbins spoke of ADC graduates who are caring for people in some of the most difficult circumstances in our region, across Canada, and around the world in these challenging times. ADC is proud of our alumni who are harbingers of hope in a hurting world. With gifts of ADC pens and alumni pins, Dr. Robbins welcomed the graduands as members of the ADC alumni and Mrs. Kathy Watt, Chair of the Acadia Divinity College Board of Trustees, called the gathering to worship.

Close partners of ADC brought greetings to the graduating class. Dr. Peter Ricketts, President and Vice-Chancellor of Acadia University, congratulated the graduates and spoke of ADC as an integral part of Acadia University, a community with a big heart and a deep soul. He offered Isaiah 6:8 as a guide when facing difficult challenges and to answer God’s call with “Here I am. Send me.” Rev. Dr. Peter Reid, Executive Minister of the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada, highlighted the richness of a student body that represents many traditions and denominations. In this critical moment in history, when a mammoth tectonic shift is underway in the world, he entreated the graduating class to not be fearful and know that the Holy Spirit is sending them to minister in new ways with incredible opportunities.

The Commissioning Service is also the graduation ceremony for those who earned Acadia Divinity College Diplomas and Certificates. Rev. Dr. Stephen McMullin, Academic Dean, recognized those graduates who have completed the Graduate Diploma in Christian Studies, the Certificate in Christian Studies, and the Certificate in Ministerial Studies.

Academic awards that are traditionally presented during the Commissioning Supper were announced during the service. The President’s Award is presented to a Master of Divinity or Master of Arts (Theology) graduating student who has achieved academic excellence and has demonstrated spiritual maturity, an interest in the life of the College, and meaningful contribution to the ministry and life of the Church. Dr. Anna Robbins announced that the recipient of the President’s Award for 2020 is Mr. Andrew Sutherland (MDiv).  Andrew, who also serves as Associate Pastor of Youth at Birch Cove Baptist Church, answered the call to ministry following graduation from the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University.

The MacRae Prize, named in honour of Rev. Dr. Andrew D. MacRae, long-time Director of Doctoral Studies, is awarded to the student with the best Doctor of Ministry thesis. Rev. Dr. Stuart Blythe, Director of Doctoral Studies, announced Rev. Dr. Christopher McMullen (DMin) as the recipient of the award for his thesis “Recovering P.A.T.H.S. of Celtic Christian spirituality: everyday experiments for Anglican parishioners in West Saint John”. Christopher is currently serving the Parish of Upper Kennebecasis, The Anglican Diocese of Fredericton, as the interim Priest-in-charge.

Rev. Dr. Matthew Walsh, Dean of Students, announced Mrs. Hannah Bartlett (MDiv) as the recipient of the Special Service Award. This award is presented annually by the faculty and staff of ADC to a student who has made a significant contribution to the community life, spirit, and well-being of the College. Dr. Walsh noted that Hannah has responded to God’s call on her life with enthusiasm, grace, dedication and a pastor’s heart.  Hannah recently moved to Prince Edward Island to become the Next Generation Pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church.

In the Reflections of a Graduand, offered each year by a graduating student chosen by the Commissioning organizers, Hannah spoke of the different journeys and stories of each student that led them to ADC and the strength that is inherent in this diverse and complex group. She expressed deep gratitude for the ADC community that has supported each graduate and helped to shape them into creative people, ready to tackle unexpected challenges, with God’s grace and mercy. ADC prepared them to be “unprecedented people for these unprecedented times,” she said.

Rev. Rob Nylen, Senior Pastor at RiverCross Church, spoke on the scripture reading (Acts 9:1-18) highlighting the faithfulness of Ananias as he responded to God’s call in dangerous times. He noted that although we are in a period of great uncertainty, it is a wonderful time to enter ministry. He implored the graduating class to be faithful to God’s call and to take encouragement from the faithfulness of Ananias. Just as the faithful Lord met Ananias in his fear, so too will He meet us.

Dr. Anna Robbins commissioned the class of 2020 to lead in Christian service, with faith in Jesus Christ and assured of His grace as their strength. Graduates reaffirmed their commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and to their place in the Lord’s service. They pledged themselves, in their entire ministry, to seek first the will of God in their lives and the sphere of service he appoints.

Throughout the service, scripture passages were read by Rev. Dr. Marjorie Lewis, Acadia University Chaplain; Lic. Debbie Simmonds, a graduating student and Associate Minister of East Preston United Baptist Church, Nova Scotia; and Rev. Dr. Jon Turner, a recent ADC alumnus and Director of New Christian Communities Church of England Birmingham. Music was provided by Ms. Hannah Freeze and Lic. Andrew Conrad, both Master of Divinity students and ADC Chapel worship leaders.

Honoured guests joining the celebration via livestream included President Benjamin Wat of Bethel Bible Seminary, an Acadia University affiliated College in Hong Kong, and previous Presidents of ADC: Rev. Dr. Harold Mitton and Rev. Dr. Harry Gardner as well as Mrs. Jean MacRae, who ministered by the side of her late husband and 4th President of ADC, Rev. Dr. Andrew MacRae. Congratulations to the graduating class were received from Mr. Bruce Galloway, Chancellor of Acadia University.

Although not a substitute for an in-person commissioning, the livestream enabled more than 1,000 guests around the world to share in this service of prayer and blessing. The Acadia Divinity College will invite the graduating class of 2020 to celebrate in person, once we are again able.


In this time of great uncertainty, our changing world needs Christian leaders who are ready to lead into the unknown with creativity and deep thought. Mr. Tom Rice, Chair of the Finance Committee of the ADC Board of Trustees, shared the College’s concern about the financial impact of the current global pandemic on students. He announced the establishment of the Acadia Divinity College COVID-19 Student Fund to provide all ADC students with supplemental financial support for the 2020-2021 academic year. Rev. John Campbell, ADC Director of Advancement, highlighted the importance of financial support to students as they persevere and adjust to new ways to study and minister.   Mr. Rice spoke of the joy of giving and invited all to join with ADC to support our students in these unprecedented times.