Commencement at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis

Commencement

Because of the coronavirus emergency, Commencement will be celebrated virtually May 15.

Concordia Seminary’s Commencement exercises for the 2020 graduating class will be held online only at 4 p.m. (CDT) May 15. Elements from the traditional Theological Diploma Service — usually held as a separate event on campus — will be included.

The service will begin with the recognition of theological diplomas for graduates who have been certified by the Seminary faculty as eligible to receive calls to serve as pastors or deaconesses in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), followed by the conferring of certificates, academic degrees and honors.

Join in the celebration virtually by sharing comments and photos, and using the hashtags #CSLGrad2020 and #LivesOfSignificance, on social media.


Commencement

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Honorees

Six special honors will be awarded during the virtual Commencement ceremony

The Christus Vivit Award: Awarded to pastors, teachers, professors, officials of the Synod and lay persons who demonstrate faithful and fruitful service to the church in their respective callings.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Dr. LeRoy Wilke graduated from business school and worked in banking before serving as a chaplain’s assistant in the U.S. Army, from which he received both the Army Good Conduct Medal and the Army Commendation Medal. He went on to graduate from Golden Valley Lutheran College, Minneapolis, Minn., and Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn. (CSP), where he was certified as a Director of Christian Education (DCE). He received his master’s degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minn. In 1999, he was awarded the honorary Doctor of Letters degree from CSP.

Wilke’s exemplary service to the church includes serving as parish administrator and DCE at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Columbia Heights, Minn.; associate professor of education and coordinator of the DCE Training Program at CSP; associate director and, later, executive director for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) former Board for Youth Services in St. Louis, Mo.; and executive director for the LCMS’ former Board for District and Congregational Services, the position from which he retired in 2005.

Wilke also has filled numerous youth ministry leadership positions, including president of the LCMS Minnesota South District Walther League and member of the district’s youth committee; president of Theological Educators in Associated Ministries-Lutheran Education Association (TEAM-LEA); member of the executive board for Lutheran Education Association; member of the board of directors for Camp Omega, Waterville, Minn.; committee chair for numerous district and upper Midwest regional youth gatherings; leadership positions for the All Lutheran Youth Gathering in New Orleans, La., and LCMS Youth Gatherings in Fort Collins, Colo., and San Antonio, Texas; and director for Journey Fests to former East Germany and Poland and LCMS partner churches in Brazil and Germany.

His post-retirement professional service includes serving as a member of the board of directors for Wittenberg English Ministry and on-site deputy director in Wittenberg, Germany; member of the board of directors for the Karpenko Institute for Nurturing and Developing Leadership Excellence (KINDLE); adjunct faculty for CSP and Concordia University, Nebraska, Seward; volunteer with the Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minn.; and member of the Board of Regents at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

The Distinguished Alumnus Award: Awarded to a graduate of Concordia Seminary who has rendered exceptional service in at least one of the following areas: parish ministry, mission field, preparation of church workers or Synod service.

Rev. Dr. Thomas J. Zelt serves as senior pastor at Prince of Peace Church in Fremont, Calif., and first vice president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) California-Nevada-Hawaii District.

Zelt holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Concordia University, Nebraska, Seward (1979), a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (1984) and a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. (2002). His master’s-level course work included studies at the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now American Institute for Advanced Biblical Studies) in Jerusalem, Israel, with a short stint at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.

His research has included extensive written and video documentation on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Israeli archeological site Qumran and other Holy Land topics. He published The Lynch Pin: Seven Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead in 2013. As a renowned Holy Land scholar, Zelt is a sought-after speaker throughout the LCMS.

Zelt teaches Concordia Seminary’s annual course that takes students to Israel to learn how to study the Bible within the context of the Holy Land’s geography and to develop new preaching and teaching skills based on their experiences. Students who take this course are thrilled for the special opportunity to study under Zelt and to gain firsthand knowledge of biblical events in the place where they occurred.

Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa: Awarded to clergy who have rendered outstanding service in church life.

Rev. Pornprom (Ted) Na Thalang was born in Bangkok, Thailand, into a Buddhist family. In 1968, his stepfather and mother moved to Fort Wayne, Ind. Na Thalang was instructed and baptized at Concordia Lutheran Church and graduated from Lutheran elementary school and high school. He received a bachelor’s degree in business from Indiana University Bloomington, Ind. (1978), and a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (1991).

Na Thalang received a call to serve as a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) evangelistic missionary to Thailand from 1991–96. From 1997–2002, he was an independent missionary; he started and served as a pastor for the Thai Lutheran Church and trained Thai church leaders. In 2004, he helped organize and register the Thailand Concordia Lutheran Church (TCLC) synod. He also served as adviser to the LCMS Asia area counselor in Southeast Asia from 1997–2002.

Since 2000, Na Thalang has served as director for the Lutheran Heritage Foundation (LHF) and translator in Southeast Asia and Asia. He and his wife, Gunya, translated Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation and workbooks into the Thai language. Currently, Na Thalang is translating The Book of Concord into Thai and is overseeing translation and publication of LHF projects such as Luther’s Small Catechism, The Augsburg Confession, A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories and Bible Stories in Pictures. Under his direction, 29 Small Catechisms have been translated and published in Asia, and more than 135 additional Lutheran materials have been published.

Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, in memoriam: Awarded to clergy who have rendered outstanding service in church life.

Laokouxang (Kou) Seying (Nyaj Kub Thoj) was born in 1964 in Xiangkhouang, Laos. Seying and his family were among the first Christian converts in that country. Seeking refuge during the Vietnam War, his family left Laos when Seying was 12 years old. They resettled in Indianapolis, Ind., in 1976 through the co-sponsorship of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and St. Peter Lutheran Church in Indianapolis.

Seying attended Lutheran schools, earning a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon (1987), and a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW), Ind. (1991). He also studied systematic theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. (1995–98) and had completed course work for his Ph.D. in missiology at CTSFW before his death Nov. 23, 2019, after a battle with cancer.

Seying was the first ordained Hmong pastor in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Over the course of his ministry, he served as a parish pastor, missionary-at-large, mission developer and professor. His first call was as pastor of Hmong Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn. (1991–95). He also taught religion and theology at Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn. (1992–2004), and was missionary-at-large for the LCMS Minnesota South District (1995–98). In 2004, Seying was called to serve the LCMS California-Nevada-Hawaii District as a deployed mission developer/strategist of Joy of Harvest Ministries through St. Paul Lutheran Church in Merced, Calif., where he pastored the Hmong congregation. He also developed Hmong church plants at Greenhaven Lutheran Church in Sacramento, Calif., and Peace Lutheran Church in Fresno, Calif. He continued his ministry in California for more than a decade. He then joined the faculty of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 2015, where he served as the Lutheran Foundation Professor of Urban and Cross-Cultural Ministry, associate dean for Urban and Cross-Cultural Ministry, and associate professor of Practical Theology.

Doctor of Laws, honoris causa: Awarded to a qualified person within The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) or one of its partner churches who demonstrates outstanding dedication to the theology and mission of the LCMS and its international partners.

Gunya Na Thalang was born in Phuket, Thailand, into a Buddhist family. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education at Srinakharinwirot University in Songkhla, Thailand (1978), and a master’s degree in education at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand (1983). She also completed the teacher colloquy program at Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn. (1989).

Since her conversion to Christianity at age 27, she has dedicated herself to the extension of Christ’s kingdom, particularly through media outreach in connection with Lutheran Hour Ministries (LHM). She founded the LHM media ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, known as Journey into Light, where she was director from 1991–2002 and became a well-known Thai radio personality. Since 2002, she has served as LHM’s regional director for Asia, overseeing the expansion of LHM ministries in nine countries, and currently directs ministries in more than 11 countries.

Doctor of Letters, honoris causa: Awarded to a qualified person within The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) or one of its partner churches who demonstrates creativity, courage and excellence in the literary articulation of the Christian faith.

Rev. Mark Kiessling serves as director of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Youth Ministry. In this role, he directs the planning and preparation process for the triennial LCMS Youth Gathering and supports the leadership, service, resourcing and networking functions of LCMS Youth Ministry. Through this work, LCMS Youth Ministry strives to support congregational revitalization and provides support for young people in Lutheran churches.

Kiessling directed the multi-year “LCMS Study of Young Adults,” which was published in 2018, and the 2017 “Survey of LCMS Congregations on Retention Since Confirmation.” He has produced numerous resources for youth and young-adult ministry; his articles have been published in the Reporter and on YouthESource.com, and he is editor of Connected for Life: Essential Guide to Youth Ministry. He has appeared on Concordia Seminary’s podcast “Word and Work: An Intersection.” Additionally, his sermons have been broadcast on KFUO Radio.

Kiessling holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from Concordia University, Portland, Ore. (1998), and a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (2006).

Watch  

Archived video of the service is available.

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