Outstanding Graduates Religious Studies
Kind, respectful, humble ... Nathan Tudor '20 is always a joy to have in class. What sets Nathan apart is the profound depth to which his inquiries reach. When Nathan engages, it is obvious that he has already plumbed the depths of whatever topic is at hand. His exegetical method is careful and precise and his theological judgment is acute and perceptive with thoughtful historical sensitivity. He deploys his best on every topic. When Nathan speaks, people listen. He thinks and performs like an outstanding graduate student. Nathan is a unique intellect and a self-deferential soul. He raises the bar in every context. Beyond his obvious intellectual and academic capabilities, his ecclesical commitment and care for those on the margins of society demonstrate his deep personal and embodied faith. We will miss him dearly.
Lucas Vieira '19, whose coursework has primarily focused on Christian mission, world religions and global Christianity, graduates with a double major in religious studies and philosophy. Outside the classroom, he served with Intercultural Programs, Emmaus Road, chapel band and his local church.
“The best part of my four years at Westmont has been the opportunity to grow in my passion for ministry alongside people who love the Lord,” he says. My study abroad experiences in both India and Jerusalem were definitely highlights for me, as I was able to see the Kingdom of God at work in different contexts.”
His religious studies professors praise his intellectual acumen, deep faith, social engagement, and love for the church. “Lucas is an excellent student. He is biblically engaged and theologically thoughtful – and he cares about the significance of classroom conversations for the life of the church in the United States and around the world,” says Caryn Reeder, chair of the religious studies department. “Lucas is deeply, personally invested in learning how to faithfully inhabit a Christian identity.”
Vieira will pursue a career in ministry. “I hope to be a pastor or perhaps a church planter one day,” he says. “I’m very passionate about preaching, urban ministry and communicating the Gospel through both word and action.”
Wesley Simmonds '18, who will work as a youth pastor in Napa, completed two honors projects and one major honors project. He presented his honors project, “Divine Hiddenness,” to the American Academy of Religion Western Regional Conference. Other research compared and contrasted ancient Egyptian love poetry with the Song of Songs. His major honors project was “Examining Conversion in Luke-Acts as a Patron-Client Relationship Through Narrative Criticism and Redaktionsgeschichte” “The best part of my four years here was meeting the most amazing woman in the world, Hannah Bruesehoff, whom I am marrying in May,” he says.
Not only does Serena Lee '17 love to study Christian theology and history, she loves to see how it sheds light on life, shapes it, and improves it. She founded Active Minds, which seeks to bring ministry and mental health together for the benefit of students. She brings diligence and focus not just to classes, music, and worship (for instance, as a longtime chapel band member), but to deeper learning and personal growth as well. Serena leads by her loving actions. One RS faculty member noted, "I very much admire the way that she translates her own spiritual journey into research and service projects for the sake of benefiting others." Serena has also been described as "one of the most conscientious, earnest, sincere and hard-working students."
Jessica Garrett '16 consistently performs at the top of the class. She has strong leadership skills and a wonderful work ethic. Our department has enjoyed having her as an intellectually energetic student and teaching assistant. We look forward to seeing how God will use her in the coming years.
Shelby Downs '15 is not only an outstanding student, but also an excellent teacher. In and out of class, she exhibits theological and historical imagination and precision, constant regard for others, and earnest and critical faith. In class she asks probing questions, finds creative ways to communicate elusive material, and brings abstractions to life with vivid and occasionally ridiculous images and comments. To all this serious business she brings a mischievous sense of humor, a love of poetry and music, and a predilection for preposterous puns. Shelby’s gifts have been noticed, and she has guest taught in several RS faculty's classes and at Santa Barbara Free Methodist Church. She assisted Westmont in Istanbul in the Spring of 2016 as an RD and intern.
Katie Fedor '15 is truly a joy to teach. Intellectually she is bright (the label “brilliant Greek student” fits), but her abilities extend to issues of life and faith. She is adept at asking the “how, then, do we live?” questions in ways that are theologically sophisticated; Katie will no doubt impress all who come into contact with her this fall at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Perhaps what is most remarkable, however, is her willingness to say she does not know, or is not quite sure. For her that does not include paralysis, but is instead a place to stop, breathe, and consider the available evidence. Even when intellectually she sees the gray, rather than black or white, she still steps out and embodies her faith in ways that are thoughtful, integrated, encouraging, and energetic.