Extra newsletter headerOctober 2018

Lercher's graduation checks off bucket list item

Watching working adults who don't fit the mold of a traditional college student cross the graduation stage is just par for the course on Wayland's external campuses. But the Sierra Vista, Ariz., campus celebrated one special graduate Stuart Lercher with his diplomain April who especially stood out from the crowd.

At 80, Stuart Lercher earned his Bachelor of Applied Science degree after six years of study, three at nearby Cochise College and three years at Wayland. He very well may be the oldest person to earn a degree at the university.

Instead of following the traditional model of going to college right after high school, Stuart - originally from Illinois - had almost the opposite higher education experience. He worked right out of school and only pursued college once he had essentially retired six years ago.

His path to Wayland was quite the winding road, starting with a dream that really was born in his heart as a teenager.

Heading to the workforce

"Daddy was a sharecropper, and when it was close to time for graduation, Momma told me, 'You don't like school, so you go get a job," he recalls with tearful emotion. "I did like school, but I did what I needed to do. I went to the state employment agency and they had two jobs available. One was a clerk typist for the Army and one was with Osco Drug."

A few days after high school graduation, Stuart interviewed at Osco and got the job. He enjoyed the work in the drugstore business. He signed up for the Air National Guard and met a young man whose father owned a drug store chain. With the promise of a doubled salary, Stuart moved to that store.

Along the way, he married Chris, a native of Vienna, Austria, who was a hairdresser. While the idea of college never really went away, the couple soon began a family and he put that dream on the back burner.

"After kids started coming, they had school and were involved in athletics, and I coached some of their teams. I also refereed basketball and volleyball games," he recalls of those early years. "In the meantime, I had gone to work for my brother's drugstore for a time, then for a catalog showroom. I ended up working up for the phone company for 15-20 years."

Deferred dreams resurface

Stuart's journey would soon change as he and Chris sold their home, quit jobs and moved two hours away to help their daughter and son-in-law run a restaurant for a few years. After that stint ended, they moved to Benson, Ariz., where Chris had family, for the next chapter, purchasing a Pepperidge Farm franchise. After eight years of that work, they decided it was time to hang that up.

"Lo and behold, we did not like a 24-7 husband," Stuart said laughing. "We talked and college came up again, so I decided to pursue it."

He went to nearby Cochise and earned an associate's Glenn Simmons presents frame to Lercherdegree, then continued on since he enjoyed it so much. Eventually his advisor said he'd have to transfer and finish his bachelor's degree to keep his Pell Grant status. She had earned a master's degree from Wayland and suggested he check that out. When he learned they would accept 90 of his credits toward a degree - considerably more than other institutions - he chose to become a Pioneer.

Dreams come true

Stuart credits his WBU advisor, Angelica Landry, with both helping him get his courses lined out as well as being a constant source of encouragement. At the end of three years, he graduated with honors, and campus Executive Director Dr. Glenn Simmons gave him a special presentation at the spring 2018 ceremony in Sierra Vista.

"The only thing wrong with my college degree is it was 60 years too late," muses Stuart, who works as a substitute teacher but said he never had a second career in mind when he decided to pursue the degree. He gets admittedly emotional when recalling that decades-ago conversation with his mother that deferred his college dream.

"One day on the way to the employment office we passed a junior college and I wanted to stop," he recalls. "We climbed up these very tall flight of stairs and when we almost got to the top, my dad said, 'Stuart, you know we don't have any money to send you to school,' so I didn't even want to go in. I wonder if I would have learned then about Pell Grants… if they would have money for poor people."

Stuart's encouragement to others is simple: never give up on a dream.

"It was a goal for me, so I just kept going. There were days it was challenging and more than one day I turned in a test and was crying. I would study and study and it wouldn't always come to me," he says. "But you never ever give up. When you start something, you don't quit; it doesn't matter how bad it gets. You can never quit."

Devotional: Practice is vital Christian discipline

First John 3 talks a lot about people who practice righteousness and people who practice sin. I appreciate the ESV version if only for the word practice. Practice tends to mean continuous work on an activity or skill over time, attempting to get better. The difference I see between my dedicated students and my students who are Practicing the pianostuck is first what they practice.

Students who are stuck practice what they already know and have mastered. For those students it is about being able to do a couple tricks, but not challenge them. The students who are dedicated and pursuing excellence practice where they are weak and want to be challenged. However, both students cannot play perfectly.

It makes me think of the process of sanctification, or the process by which we are conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). What would happen though if we approached our faith in and walk with God the way a committed musician approaches their practice? Perhaps instead of hiding and covering up our areas of weakness, we would look at those weak areas and practice there. Just as a musician does not play it perfectly in the initial stages of practices, the Christian may be weak for a long time in an area; but with the right kind of practice, the Christian will gradually improve.

Consider King David's prayer at the end of Psalm 139: "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Do we invite God to shine a light into the dark, dusty corners of our life so that we may see where we are failing, so that we know what to practice, or do we hide and continue to practice only those things at which we already excel? In a way David's prayer is what we seek when we have a private lesson, music jury, or hearing; we need to know how to improve.

The person who hides their weakness is one that will not be challenged; just try to question anything, and he will fly off the handle or become overly defensive. He may even demonstrate that he is a good Christian by showing that which he has already mastered, but he is stuck. A Christian who is not stuck will look at his weakness and work there until he is no longer weak. For instance, if this Christian struggled with prayer they would take regular time to practice it. The time would not be rushed; they would begin slowly and focus on improvement. It would not be perfect early on, in fact it would probably be downright awkward, but they would practice it. Slowly at first, but continuously improving. How would our churches look different if we practiced our faith like a musician practices their instrument?

Carolyn Thaxton earned her degree in intercultural missions and piano in 2016 and is currently teaching music at the Kathmandu International Study Centre in Nepal. She taught music in Hale Center before leaving her for two-year stint in July 2018. You can follow her adventures online here.

From the History Files

It was 1996, and the building that had once stood as an embarrassment to Wayland officials was finally completed. The Mabee Learning Resources Center was bright, shiny and newly furnished to become the school's library, a beacon in the middle of the campus rather than a stark reminder of dreams deferred and dashed during hard economic times.

Students in the late 1980s and early 1990s called it "Stonehenge" and a favorite pastime was tossing watermelons from the four-story building. Student events Mabee LRC were sometimes held in the concrete-floored basement level creating a sense of awe among coeds. But when Dr. Wallace Davis took the presidential helm in 1991, he knew immediately what his first project should be: improve the campus aesthetic and make Stonehenge into a viable facility and not an albatross.

Davis led the charge to start a new campaign called Spanning the Centuries, reaching out to donors new and old and many foundations to support the completion of the library. Every room and section was designated for donor naming rights and within a few years, the goal was met.

In addition to the rooms for books and reference materials, the new Mabee LRC would also be home to a beautiful new art gallery provided by the Abraham family, a chapel with stained glass windows and a top floor faculty lounge. The dedication was a black-tie affair complete with fireworks.

Meet your Alumni Board

Abby Manes earned her degree from Wayland just a few years ago, but she's been able to stay connected to the university both physically and through her job as the children and family minister at First Baptist Church in Muleshoe. It's a matter of gratitude for the young alumnus, who joined the Alumni Executive Board in August.

"My favorite thing about being at Wayland was the experience Abby Manes of being at home," says Abby, who is working on a master's degree from Logsdon Seminary as well. "I felt at home from the moment I stepped on campus as a junior in high school, and this feeling carried over in my time on campus. The people that I met and the things I had the opportunity to do have all shaped me into who I am today. I am thankful for this time because it has equipped me for my career and life path."

Abby enjoys the alumni board service because she can "stay connected with a piece of my heart." She love to connect with current students and encourage them along their journey. She encourages other graduates to stay involved and recall how others shaped their experience. That memory, she said, will keep the flame of loyalty going strong.

"I love that the Wayland Family continues past graduation and is an important part of university life!" she says. "Whether it is supporting the school financially or through encouraging current students, we have both the blessing and responsibility to stay engaged."

Homecoming is around the corner

If you have not yet registered for homecoming Oct. 26-27, now is the time to make that commitment and plan to join us. Whether you can stay from Friday morning chapel to Saturday's play or just a few events throughout the weekend, we want to know you're coming so we can roll out the red carpet, so to speak!

Already folks are signing up to join us on campus and we hope to include YOU in that number. Our honor classes are 1968 (Golden Anniversary), 1978, 1988, 1998 and 2008, but homecoming is for everyone. Think of it like a family reunion: you are family, and you are always welcome back home. Perhaps it's time to grab your own little family and bring them to the place that made you a Pioneer!

Many events have no charge, and we'd love to see you come out and cheer on the Pioneers at Saturday's football game. The usual gate admission is waived for alumni who have registered for homecoming, even if you check in with us that day. Our "Homecoming Headquarters" in Gates Hall will be a great place to check-in, get directions and the scoop on what's happening. Click here to get the full lineup of homecoming events, then register using the online form here.

Alumnus pens pair of books on mysticism

A personal interest in mystic practices led 2003 graduate Dann Wigner to choose the topic for his doctoral dissertation. That same research is the basis for two new books penned by Wigner to share his findings with the general public.

Wigner, who teaches adjunctly for Wayland in religion Sociology bookwhile working in the library at University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., released "Sociology of Mystic Practices: Use and Adaptation in the Emergent Church" in June 2018 through Pickwick Publications. The book features religious or Christian practices which Wigner says deal with directly encountering God.

"I looked at a lot of forms of prayer, and fairly typical practices like communion (or the Lord's Supper) and the Lord's Prayer. Also there are some that might be considered more uncommon like centering prayer, using labyrinths, meditations, icons, the rosary, etc.," he explains. "I tried to focus on practices that would be more familiar to a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox perspective and not so much the evangelical churches. Most emergent churches are not from that background but have interest in these practices, and I looked at how they were adapting them."

What it all means

Defining an "emergent church" took a while, Wigner noted. In short, he says the term refers to churches that come out of an evangelical context "that are reacting to postmodernism by doing church in a new way, and there is a great variety of how they interpret that." Many are rethinking what a church even means or are heavily adaptive to their culture, like in urban areas or college cities.

The book details research found in an in-depth study of three churches in Texas and Oklahoma. Culling data from interviews, questionnaires and multiple visits to the varying congregations, Wigner concluded that the churches have a pragmatic focus, taking a common practice and adding their own theology to make it work for them.

"On the sociology side, they were looking at very traditional/historical practices and looking at it like a neutral container where they could pour whatever theology they want into it," he explains. "It seems that has usually been seen in the opposite way: Certain things - because of their historical connections --- could not be used in the church."

Insights of research

One particular insight surprised Wigner: "Of all the churches that used the Lord's Supper or Communion, no one connected it to the Last Supper or Christ's sacrifice. All of their meaning tied to that was more of a community sharing a meal concept."

Wigner's second book, "Just Begin," is due to publish this month through Church Publishing, Inc. He describes it more as a "how-to" book about practicing mysticism for those with an interest. Both volumes are available for purchase through his personal website, www.DannWigner.com.

Wigner familyThe mysticism topic was a familiar one, having interested Wigner since his undergraduate days at Wayland, where he studied religion and English. He visited it more formally for his thesis toward the Master of Arts in Religion degree at WBU, which he earned in 2006. He also earned a master's degree in library science from the University of North Texas in 2006.

When seeking out PhD programs, he was drawn toward the University of Durham (England) and its Center for the Study of Spirituality. He earned the PhD in 2015 and is teaching at a few schools while his wife LeeAnn, who earned her bachelor's degree at Wayland in 2005 and the MA in religion in 2008, completes her Master of Divinity at the University of the South's seminary in preparation for ministry in the Episcopal church. The couple has a son Clark, 5.

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