Destined for Something Small: A  Seminary Reflection

By Barrett Abernethy, Student Body President

Recently, I heard a sermon by MaryAnn McKibben Dana, a Presbyterian pastor from Virginia.  She was preaching on Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine. Why had this been the first miracle in the Gospel of John, she wondered? After all, the other six include raising Lazurus, three healings, walking on water, and feeding the 5,000.  “One of these does not fit.” MaryAnn proclaimed. Only it did, she would later reveal to us, and in a wonderful image, she raised her arms wide, reaching towards heaven, declaring “Maybe we are destined…” And then cleverly, she brought her hands down, held them together as if she was holding a baby chick, and whispered “…for something small.”

Austin Seminary is a small community. It has been the community that Braegan, my wife, and I have called home for the past three years, and it has been a source of small miracles that have illuminated the constant presence of the Holy Spirit.

Just this past semester I have witnessed in this community the gift of new life followed by the outpouring of support to the new parents. I have watched my classmates rally around the spouse of a student as she has valiantly battled breast cancer.  I have experienced the joy of recalling the prom nights passed with our community and the faithful saints from the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest. This scene literally brought to life the ecumenical dance we are called to participate in through the unity we have in Christ.

It has been a pleasure to see the growth in diversity in our community. The reformation of the African-American Student Group and continued growth of our Queer Alliance give rise to those voices we have silenced in previous eras but allow us to see the vision lifted up by Paul in Galatians. The vision that there should be “No Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female, for we are one in Christ Jesus.”

In her sermon, MaryAnn reminded us that during that first miracle only six jars were filled with wine. She noted the number "6" is representative of incompleteness, of imperfections.  Conversely, she reminded us that God created the world in seven days, that "7" is symbolic for perfection, acknowledging there is a beginning and end.

As I come to the end of my seminary journey, I can’t help but think of KC Ptomey, our beloved professor who died last week. KC led us through the practical aspects of ministry, of how we nurture good lay leadership, of how we lead others to be good stewards, of how to properly prepare a good sermon.

He taught us those small details of ministry that show the fellowship of God. Those insignificant, yet vitally important actions: sitting with a family in a hospital waiting room, listening to a parishioner at their bedside, observing how the church session interacts with one another. He taught us that these moments built trust between the pastor and the congregation, and as he cheekily added, “That’s my opinion, and it ought to be yours.” 

KC died on a Thursday, the liturgical day of Ascension, which also was the day the classes he was to teach this spring concluded. He walked with us to the very end and God knew the small miracles he had offered us students were now complete. For him, the seventh jar was filled, and he has been received for a new beginning, destined for something BIG.

These past three years have prepared me for the next step in a myriad of ways, and these are but a few examples of how that still, small voice is present in and through our lives here on the winsome twelve acres of Austin Seminary. This summer, I will begin my small ministry in rural Alabama, and I will take the lessons I learned everyday from class mates, faculty, staff, and KC Ptomey. The practical lessons that Jesus taught us, that only filling 6 jars is okay, that miracles do happen amid the small, daily musings of life.  Of course, that’s just my opinion…

Barrett Abernethy is a member of the class of 2013 and has accepted a call to serve as pastor to First Presbyterian Church, Livingston, Alabama.


Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary will confer degrees on thirty-six masters and doctoral candidates at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 26, at University Presbyterian Church in Austin. Board of Trustee Chair Cassandra Carr will preside over the ceremony, and Rev. Trey Little (MDiv’03), pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio, Texas, will deliver the commencement address.


The Baccalaureate Service will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, at University Presbyterian Church, Austin. The Reverend Dr. David W. Johnson will preach and The Reverend Dr. Jennifer Lord will preside at the Lord's Table.


University Presbyterian Church
2203 San Antonio Street
Austin, Texas

2013-2014 Student Senate

The student body recently elected middler Sheila Sidberry as the 2013-2014 Student Body President.

Senior Senators: Michael East & Chad Lawson
Junior Senators: Kelly Shoenfelt & Roberta Parrillo
Admissions Commissioners: David Boyd & Molly McGinnis
Bookstore Commissioner: Sarah de la Fuente
Financial Aid Commissioner: Jan Quirl
LIQRE/ Library Commissioners: Amy Wilson-Stayton, Jill Boyd
Program of Study Commissioners: Gordon Blackman Jr., Kathy Lee
Worship Committee Representatives: Josh Kerr, Layton Williams
Elections Commissioner: Cindy Eschliman
Chapel Beadles: Molly McGinnis, Daivd Watson
Kairos: Layton Williams