McAfee Traditions

Chalice and Paten

Chalice and PatenA chalice and paten are presented to every Master of Divinity (M.Div.) and Master of Christian Ministry (M.A.C.M.) graduate of the McAfee School of Theology during the commissioning service just prior to graduation.  The chalice and paten are symbols of the Christian Church that recall the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples prior to his crucifixion.

The last supper has become a ritual meal of the Christian Church in which Christ’s death is remembered. The chalice and paten are given to McAfee graduates as an acknowledgment of the priestly role students will play when they celebrate and observe this meal in a ministry context.

After sharing the last supper with his disciples and encouraging them to continue its observance in remembrance of him, the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus had to settle a dispute among his disciples about which one of them was the greatest.  Jesus tells them that “the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” The chalice and paten are also given as symbols of service.  Those who minister must be humble in their relationship with those they serve.

Therefore, the chalice and paten are symbols of both the priestly function of ministry and the calling to serve with humility. The chalice and paten are lasting reminders to McAfee graduates that ministry calls them to always hold the two polarities of leader and servant in tension.

Oil Lamp

An oil lamp is presented to every Master of Theological Studies (MTS) graduate of the McAfee School of Theology during the commissioning service just prior to graduation. The oil lamp is the traditional symbol for higher education and in biblical sources it is often a symbol of “lighting” the way for the righteous and the wise. The oil lamp is given to MTS graduates as an acknowledgement of their rigorous academic work of researching and writing, as well as a symbol of their calling to illuminate the path of learning for others. As Jesus shared in Matthew 5:14-16, remember, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Pitcher and Towel

Pitcher and TowelA pitcher and towel are presented to every Doctor of Ministry graduate of the McAfee School of Theology during the School’s commissioning service just prior to graduation.  Ancient symbols of ministry in the life of the church, the pitcher and towel recall that moment just prior to Jesus’ crucifixion when he took a towel, filled a bowl with water from a pitcher, knelt before his disciples, washed their feet with his hands, and then dried their feet with the towel.

The pitcher symbolizes the purity of life in Christ as well as the opportunity for ministry in the name of Christ.  Actual ministry only occurs when Christ takes up the pitcher, pours water into a bowl and washes the disciples’ feet.  For this reason, the pitcher represents the opportunity for ministry that exists for every follower of Jesus and especially for those who are called by the church into vocational ministry.  Each follower of Jesus is a potential source of healing, cleansing and hope.

The towel symbolizes the humility that ought to mark every act of service on behalf of Christ in the world.  If Jesus is humble enough to take the feet of his disciples into his own hands, dip them into a bowl, and then wipe the water and dirt from those feet, then certainly persons who minister in the name of Jesus should exhibit the same sort of humility in their relationship with the people whom they serve.

The purpose of McAfee’s Doctor of Ministry degree is to assist ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to more faithful and dedicated service in their congregations and other places of ministry.  The pitcher and towel serve as symbols that remind our graduates of this most basic calling to humbly serve others.


The stole is a common symbol of congregational leaders for many denominational traditions, sometimes associated with the words of Christ, “Take my yoke upon you.” The stole is often used for weddings, funerals, ordinations, and baptisms. The tradition of presenting stoles to first year Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Christian Ministry students started in the fall of 2021 on Founders Day, marking the formal beginning of their preparation for ministry.

Fountain Pens

The fountain pen is a symbol of writing and research. These pens are made out of olive wood from Israel and were hand-crafted by William Deal, who graduated with a Master of Divinity from McAfee in 2012. The pens are presented to first year Master of Theological Studies students, marking the formal beginning of their writing and research. As with the stoles, the tradition started in the fall of 2021, during Founders Day.

McAfee Hymn

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Everlasting love has led us to this day;
sovereign hands have beckoned to a higher way.
Let us lift our lives to the sacred calling;
God of all the past, keep us faithful to the last.

Mold our minds for knowing what is deeply true.
Consecrate our strength for all that we must do.
Grow us into being truer sons and daughters,
Till we love You whole; heart and mind and strength and soul.

When our path is painful, when we sow in tears,
Lift us by the hope that heals our faithless fears.
Have we not been called? Have we not been promised?
More than we may ask, love and power to meet the task.

Let us then be bound, companions on the way,
Shining for the world the light of coming day.
Make us, holy God, partners in your passion.
Give to all our days courage, hope, and endless praise.

The McAfee Oak

McAfee OakThe McAfee faculty and staff – founding faculty (Loyd Allen, Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Paul Duke, Ron Johnson, and me) and staff (Dock Hollingsworth, Director of Admissions; and Cynthia Cobb, Administrative Assistant) – were so busy getting the curriculum planned, developing a catalog, defining the school’s distinctives, recruiting the first class of students, meeting with pastors and members of the Committee of Clergy and Laity for a New Seminary in Atlanta, and working with Tommy Boland on the design of the School of Theology Building that we did not think about having an opening convocation the first year of classes (1996-1997). Emily Myers, Senior VP for Advancement, suggested we hold the founding convocation in October of 1997. Plans were made to hold the convocation at FBC Decatur (where Peter Rhea Jones, chair of the Committee for a new seminary in Atlanta, was pastor), President Roy Honeycutt, retired president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was the convocation speaker, and President Jimmy Carter was going to bring greetings. Some 700 friends and supporters of the new seminary filled the sanctuary. A few days before the convocation, however, Robert Gozueta, CEO of Coca Cola, died, and his funeral was the same time as our convocation, so President Carter could not come to the convocation. Instead, he spoke briefly and eloquently at the luncheon following the convocation, in the banquet room at the Holiday Inn across the street from the church.

At the convocation, Daniel Vestal, Executive Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, brought greetings from CBF. At the end of his remarks, he called me to the podium and gave me an acorn. He said he had been preaching that Sunday in Madison, GA, and picked up the acorn. His prayer was that the school, like an acorn that would become a strong oak, would grow into a sturdy institution that would bless future generations of students and churches.

McAfee OakAfter the convocation, I gave the acorn to Pete Pike (founder of Pike’s Nurseries, a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church, and a friend of Truett Gannon), and asked him to have the acorn germinated so that we could plant the tree near the School of Theology building (which was completed in December 1996). In the spring of 1999, in preparation for McAfee’s first graduation (with ten graduates), I asked Pete to send us the tree. It was just about knee high. After the graduation, we had a brief tree-planting ceremony, told the story of the acorn, and let the first graduating class plant the tree.

We teased Pete and asked him the question everyone was raising, “Did that tree really come from the acorn Daniel Vestal had given me, or had he just asked one of his nursery workers to pick out a small tree and sent it to us. How would anyone know?” Pete assured me that the tree had indeed germinated from the acorn I had given him, and pointing to the sky he said, “He’ll know, He’ll know.”

– Founding Dean, R. Alan Culpepper, PhD


In August 2021, the cherished oak tree that grew for 22 years in front of the McAfee School of Theology split in half and fell. The oak tree was germinated from an acorn that was presented at the theology school’s dedication and planted on Mercer University’s Atlanta campus by the school’s first graduating class. “It was planted by the first graduating class, growing as the school was growing. Symbolically, it was a wonderful thing,” said former Dean Dr. Alan Culpepper. As the tree grew, it diverted into three trunks, “which may be nice theology, to have the Trinity, but it made for a weak tree,” Dr. Culpepper said. The diverging trunks created a hollow place in the center of the tree, which filled with water and, over time, led to rot, said Dr. DeLoach, who pondered the meaning of the tree’s demise on his blog.

Current Dean, Dr. Greg DeLoach, is looking into ways to repurpose and reuse the wood. “We’re going to repurpose every bit of it that we can, and then we’ll plant a new treethere because I think part of the metaphor is everything has a season,” he said. “Things live and they die, and they’re born anew. That’s very theological. You always deal with life and death, but you carry on. So, we’ll plant for the next generation.”

The McAfee Logo

The new School of Theology at Mercer had no more enthusiastic or dedicated supporter than Ann White Morton, the first School of Theology librarian. While we worked to establish traditions for the new school and make plans for the first graduation, Ann gave the money for the school to have a pre dieu (French for “pray God,” a kneeling bench that could be used at the commissioning service, for the Lord’s Supper, and at ordinations and weddings). She also worked with the craftsman who built the pre dieu, and together we worked over the design for the front of it. It was her idea that it should be symbolic of the cross, the empty tomb (the open area behind the cross), and the capital omega (Christ, “the alpha and omega”). The craftsman drew this out, but his rendering of the cross did not match the traditional Baptist image with a longer vertical pole, so we adjusted the drawing accordingly. The result was a beautiful and distinctive addition to worship at McAfee that has been used by countless students and graduates at their weddings and ordinations.

About the same time, the University Advancement staff said that the school needed a logo they could use on McAfee publications. They sent us several designs, but none of them expressed the mission of the school. Finally, we sent them a drawing of the pre dieu, which their artists stylized, and it has been used as the school logo ever since.

To learn more about Mercer University’s traditions, click here.