‘Trust in the Lord in your long journey’: Dedicated commuter students make weekly trek for seminary classes

Twelve Eastern Mennonite Seminary students commute more than an hour each way to classes in Harrisonburg. Back row, from left: Mike Evans, Adam Stultz, Bob Michalides, Nathan Epling. Front row: David Gaylor, Josh Dalton, Lorrie Aikens, Dawn Reidy, Alanna McGuin. Not pictured: Amber Baker, Anna Lewis-Efaw, Tobias Lutz.

David Gaylor commutes 320 miles round-trip to Eastern Mennonite Seminary each week, traveling from the south-central town of Martinsville and staying Tuesday and Wednesday night. In his second year of studies, Gaylor says he’s been enriched by the experience.

“I feel at home and like I have made relationships that I will keep forever,” he said.

Bob Michalides travels 220 miles round-trip from Lynchburg. He spends one night each week with fellow graduate student Valerie Showalter ‘06 and partner Justin Shenk ‘06. “True hospitality,” he says. “EMS demonstrates Jesus’ commandment to love your neighbor as you love yourself. There are no strangers in this world, but people created equally in the image of God.”

Gaylor and Michalides are among 12 commuter students who travel more than an hour each way to attend seminary classes this semester. Of the 12, 11 are affiliated with the United Methodist Church (UMC) and one with the Church of the Brethren.

Since the mid-’80s, EMS has shared a special relationship with the UMC in theological education, having been approved by the church’s University Senate for the training of candidates for ordination.

“Many of our Methodist students come here because of proximity, but those who may be closer to other schools say they are often encouraged by EMS alumni, or they’ve witnessed the unique education that EMS alumni pastors have had here,” says director of admissions Les Horning ’86, SEM ‘98.

Alanna McGuinn was inspired to a 90-mile commute through the West Virginia mountains on the recommendation of Judy Vetter SEM ’05, a UMC pastor in Romney, West Virginia.

“I am becoming an even more effective pastor because of my time here,” McGuinn says. “The education I am receiving is outstanding, but perhaps more important are the connections I have made with both faculty and fellow students.”

Mike Evans, a pastor with multiple charges in central Virginia, was encouraged by colleague Gordon Meriweather, who graduated with dual degrees from the seminary and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in 2015.

Evans earned his bachelor’s degree at EMU in 2011 and started his Master of Divinity degree at Wesley Theological Seminary before transferring to EMS. He appreciates the small class sizes, the relationships with professors and classmates, and the diversity of beliefs.

“Studying at EMS helps me have an open mind about other believers,” he said. “The different points of view show me a larger Christian world than I would see if I had gone to a traditionally Methodist seminary. This diversity will help me in showing and teaching my congregations how we all fit into a larger body of believers and how love crosses multiple denominations.”

This article was first published in the fall/winter 2017 Crossroads alumni magazine.