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When desire and possible collide

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Knoxville's Reginald Strong graduates from C-N's M.A.A.T. program during the University's 2018 Winter Commencement.

Three recent Carson-Newman University graduates’ experiences prove that completing a degree is possible no matter your stage of life, finances or circumstances that happen along the way.

A new cohort in Carson-Newman’s Master of Arts in Applied Theology program recently began delving into God’s Word and learning how to apply Scripture to everyday circumstances. 

“Their question always was, well what are you going to do with this degree?” Diana Meredith recalled being asked when she told people she was getting an M.A.A.T. as she neared retirement. “The answer is what this degree is doing with me — what the experience and the learning and the knowledge that I’ve gained through this study has done inside of me — and how God is using that to help me shine His light with others.”

Meredith, 62, is director of marketing and public relations for Goodwill Industries of Tenneva Inc. She retired in August 2018 from a 29-year career with the Kingsport Times News.

A 1978 C-N graduate, Meredith first joined the M.A.A.T. program in 2013 with financial support from First Baptist Church of Kingsport. Shortly after, she learned that her husband had life-threatening cancer. She took two years off while her husband underwent treatment, as well as additional time for her daughter’s wedding.

She graduated in December 2018 alongside Reginald Strong, 65, of Knoxville, who pastors Community Evangelistic Presbyterian Church. Strong also experienced the program’s flexibility after he suffered a stroke during his first semester in 2014. He is thankful for the encouragement he received from faculty during the two years he took to recover and transition from a state government job to his new role as pastor.

“(God) was making it even more convenient for me to fit into that process,” he added, noting that he received an endowed scholarship. “All of the things that would deter you from a program seemed to have been moved out of the way.

Like Strong, fellow December 2018 graduate Arthur Clayton found applied theology aided him in leading a congregation.

Clayton, 47, is pastor of Deaf Church Knoxville. Born to two deaf parents, Clayton immersed himself in deaf ministry for years, but had a career in finance.

“I had not taken the traditional route of becoming a pastor. I’m a lay person called to ministry,” Clayton said. “The M.A.A.T. program gave me the theological foundation I needed to be more confident in my teachings and delivering the Word of God to the congregation.”

Completing the course can take as little as 18 months. It includes eight core classes and four electives, for a total of 36 hours. This spring, course options will feature both C-N Religion faculty lecturers and a seminar by Dr. Paul Hartwig, of South Africa — “Ten Theologians that Speak from the Grave.”

Seminars, held at First Baptist Church of Knoxville, run for eight weeks. They meet two Saturdays a month from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. International course options include trips to Israel and South Africa.

As chair of Carson-Newman University’s Religion Department, Dr. David Crutchley considers the program one of the area’s best kept secrets.

“The M.A.A.T. is a provocative and unique theological degree,” Crutchley said. “The program is ecumenical in spirit and broad in representative vocations and seasons of life.”

If God puts a desire in your heart to learn or to know more, that desire is there for a reason,” Meredith said. “I had dismissed things, because I couldn’t figure out how to make it a reality. (God) made it possible when I thought it was impossible.”

For more information, visit: cn.edu/adult-graduate-studies

For media inquiries, visit the University Relations page.

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