Southwestern Seminary, TBC graduates reflect on God’s call, equipping on Seminary Hill

Graduation Spring

Sounds of celebration rang throughout Seminary Hill as 301 graduates of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College received their diplomas and certificates during the May 3 commencement ceremony.

The spring 2024 graduating class included students from 27 states and 22 countries. Among the graduates were the first two students to earn the Graduate Certificate in Worship Leadership from the School of Church Music and Worship (SCMW).

Father and son Robert S. and Robert P. Evaul hug after both graduated from the Maestria de Estudios Teologicos (MET) program at Southwestern Seminary.

The ceremony marked a special occasion for a father and son who graduated from the same program with the same degree.

Robert S. Evaul, 75, and his son, Robert P. Evaul, both graduated from the Maestria de Estudios Teologicos (MET) program. The elder Evaul had entered the program when it began in 2014 but left after a semester. Since that time, two of his sons-in-law graduated from the program, and his son began his own studies in 2021. Robert S. started back in the program the following year and doubled up on his classes so he and his son could graduate together.

Some Southwestern faculty members also celebrated watching their children graduate, including Dean Sieberhagen, interim dean of the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, associate professor of Islamic studies, and the Charles F. Stanley Chair for the Advancement of Global Christianity. Sieberhagen’s son, Jonathan, a missionary with the International Mission Board, graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from the Fish School.

Richard Ross, senior professor of student ministry in the Jack D. Terry School of Educational Ministries, watched his son, Clayton, receive his Bachelor of Arts in Humanities from TBC. Clayton began his education at the college in 2007 and persevered through health issues to earn his degree.

Daniel Torres walked in the ceremony, though he earned his Doctor of Philosophy in World Christian Studies in 2021. Torres was unable to come to the Fort Worth campus that year due to COVID-19 restrictions but walked in the spring 2024 commencement with his wife, Sheila, who received her MET. She was among 77 graduates who earned non-English degrees and certificates.

Brock P. Hardin, a member of Southwestern Seminary’s board of trustees from Oklahoma, earned a Master of Theological Studies from the School of Theology.

Other graduates shared stories of how God called them to Southwestern and how the seminary equipped them to serve Him.

Jordan Covarelli of Fort Worth earned a Ph.D. in church music and worship from the SCMW. He said he found Southwestern Seminary in an online search.

“I knew I wanted to pursue a terminal degree in this field and there are only a handful of accredited degrees in worship. God so ordained that one of them would be in my own city,” said Covarelli, who serves as a musician and music director at Gateway Church.

“I have learned so much during my time here,” he said. “Every course has been full of challenging learning experiences and growth. Foremost, I have learned and seen God’s sovereign faithfulness.”

Covarelli said God is leading his next steps the “same way He always has: faithfully and by steps of faith. There’s a lot of questions ahead, but there’s always one Answer.”

Jedediah Denman, a Doctor of Educational Ministry student from Texas, received his degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during the May 3 commencement exercises. Denman believes the Lord is “lovingly encouraging” him to be a hospital chaplain.

Jedediah Nathaniel Denman of Sherman, Texas, earned a Doctor of Educational Ministry in church revitalization from the Fish School. Currently, Denman serves as a church consultant and men’s ministry leader at North Park Baptist Church in Sherman, Texas.

“My time at SWBTS taught me more than I could ever list, and I am beyond grateful for each professor and their unique view of church revitalization,” he said. “I am certain as I continue to serve God as a revitalizing pastor, I will put into practice the new principles that I learned.”

Denman said that in addition to serving as a revitalizing pastor, “God is lovingly encouraging me to become a hospital chaplain.”

Texas native Carly Paes Leme earned a Master of Divinity from the School of Theology at Southwestern Seminary. Paes Leme was the 2024 President’s Scholar Award recipient for the School of Theology.

A native of Coppell, Texas, Carly Schreiner Paes Leme earned a Master of Divinity degree from the School of Theology. She originally began her studies in a different program, but over time, “God continued to grow in me a yearning to know Him better, learn more, and be equipped for His ministry in my life,” she explained. After seeking counsel, “I switched my degree to program to the MDiv and have loved it,” she added.

Her time at Southwestern Seminary has “challenged, stretched, and sanctified me more than any other season of my life,” she said. She singled out the faculty, whom she described as “passionate men and women who seek God’s guidance – through the study of His Word – on how to serve Him and His Church, which has, in turn, made me passionate about serving in the local church.”

Following graduation, she and her husband will move to Gallatin, Tennessee, where he has accepted a position as youth minister. “I am excited to get to serve alongside him as we are humbled to get to pour into the lives of the youth at First Baptist,” she said.

Paes Leme was the 2024 President’s Scholar Award recipient for the School of Theology.

Matthew Wilbanks, a native Texan, earned a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling from the Jack D. Terry School of Educational Ministries at Southwestern, making him a two-time Southwestern Seminary graduate having earned his bachelor’s degree at the institution’s undergraduate college in 2020.

Matthew Wilbanks, from Atlanta, Texas, earned a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling (MABC) from the Terry School, making him a two-time Southwestern alumnus.

“I graduated from Texas Baptist College in 2020 and thought I was going to be done with my education for a year or so, but after working in a restaurant for one semester, I knew that God was leading me back to Southwestern,” he said. A friend had graduated from the seminary’s biblical counseling program a few years ago and “showed a biblically grounded life in the way he treated the people around him,” Wilbanks said, adding, “I had felt that God was calling me into student ministry, and my friend’s example showed me that the MABC would equip me to help students see the guidance God gives through the Bible.”

Wilbanks said that, through his classes at Southwestern, “I have been given the foundation to study Scripture well and the confidence to teach with clarity.” Though currently serving as youth ministry coordinator at Longbranch Community Baptist Church in Midlothian, Texas, Wilbanks has accepted a full-time youth minister position in East Texas.

“I know that having a ministry job after graduation is not always available, so I am thankful to God for giving me the opportunity to continue serving Him through serving students,” he said.

Chloe Bonner earned a Master of Music in Worship Leadership from the School of Church Music and Worship. Next, she’ll join a team from the SCMW to lead worship at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Chloe Bonner, a Dallas native, earned a Master of Music in Worship Leadership from the SCMW. She is a member of First Baptist Church of Benbrook, Texas, and offers music ministry in various churches throughout the Greater Fort Worth area.

“Music has always been a huge part of my life,” Bonner said, adding that she grew up singing and directing choir in church and received classical training from elementary school through her undergraduate studies. After realizing the Lord was calling her to music ministry, Bonner began an online search for faith-based graduate music programs.

“Finding a school/program where I could be theologically equipped and grow in my musicianship became my goal,” she recalled. She found Southwestern and said her degree program “has gifted me more ministry training than I had ever hoped or imagined.”

Following graduation, Bonner will join a team headed by Joseph R. Crider, dean of Southwestern’s SCMW, to lead worship at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana. Beyond that, she said, “I am seeking the Lord about my next steps in vocational ministry, though I am confident He will open the right door in His timing.”

Bonner was the 2024 recipient of the SCMW’s J.D. Riddle Memorial Award for a qualified music student and the school’s 2023 recipient of the Edwin McNeely Music Award, which is awarded on the basis of character, personality, and ability, particularly in effective leadership of congregational singing and public worship.

Nancy Gilmer became a two-time Southwestern graduate after earning a Master of Theology. She pursued the degree while serving as missions director at First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas.

Nancy Gilmer of Farmersville, Texas, earned a Master of Theology from the Fish School, her second Southwestern degree after completing her Master of Arts in missiology in spring 2020.

Southwestern “was the only school I ever desired to attend since all of the pastors and mentors in my life had been SWBTS graduates.” She serves as missions director at First Baptist Church in Farmersville under Bart Barber, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a two-time Southwestern Seminary alumnus. Barber was also the commencement speaker.

Gilmer said that after earning her first master’s degree from Southwestern, “I knew I had not done everything God wanted me to do to be the best missions director I could be for Him. I also wanted to further my understanding of Muslim beliefs since our church works in a highly Muslim area of the world and because we have a large group of Muslims moving to our area. I wanted to knowledgeably equip our church members to be confident in sharing the Gospel [with them].”

Gilmer said she will continue to lead the ministry opportunities at her church and will be assisting the first family from the church to go overseas with the International Mission Board in the fall.

Gilmer was the 2024 recipient of the Madison and Matia Queen Evangelism Award which honors a student of sound moral character, commitment to Christian ministry, and a member of a Southern Baptist church and teaches children to memorize Scripture related to salvation and provides them with evangelistic opportunities.

Dillon Richardson earned a Bachelor of Humanities degree from Texas Baptist College. Richardson was a recipient of the TBC Essay Scholarship and the 2024 President’s Scholar Award for the college.

Married couple Dillon and Emma Richardson both earned their Bachelor of Arts in Humanities from Texas Baptist College. Both were active in the Student Leadership Council while on campus. Both were winners of the TBC Essay Scholarship, and both said it was a key factor in their decision to enroll in the college.

Dillon, from Huntington, Texas, said he had wanted to be a police officer and was passing time until he was old enough to enter the police academy. During his senior year of high school, he participated in a pastoral internship at his home church and the pastor told him about Southwestern. “I wasn’t sure, but as the year went by, I decided to apply,” he said.

He was accepted and “was blessed to have received a scholarship … I took this as God’s providential plan to provide for my education.”

Dillon said his time at Texas Baptist College taught him the value of a Christ-centered education. “TBC has taught me how I can live and work for Christ in any career; how to view ethics and social issues through the lens of Scripture; and how to love others and glorify God through my secular occupation.”

He plans to pursue a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree at Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock. “While I look forward to a life dedicated to advocacy and service, I believe that there is great mission and duty to share the gospel and be a Christian leader to those I will be studying under and alongside.”

Dillon was the 2024 recipient of the President’s Scholar Award for TBC.

Like her husband Dillon, Emma Richardson earned a Bachelor of Humanities and was a recipient of the TBC Essay Scholarship. She said her time at the college has equipped her to see people as image bearers of God and to love them as such.

Emma, a native of Long Island, New York, said God led her to TBC through the essay scholarship.

“Through much prayer and deliberation, I felt peace in moving to Fort Worth, being confident I would thrive and not only receive an outstanding education but find a community of people that would help to shape me into who God is making me to be,” she said.

Emma said that, at TBC, “I have been taught not only how to look and interpret different ideas and texts, but have learned how to think and approach an idea in a way that is based on Scripture and ultimately seeks to glorify God. I have been equipped to see people as image bearers of God and to love them as such.”

She believes God is leading her to work in a church “in any capacity. Above all, my heart desires to raise a family and children that seek to know the Lord more and to see the Lord in every aspect of life.” As the couple moves to Lubbock and her husband begins his studies, Emma said they are “excited to see what the Lord will do in our lives there.”