It’s been a long haul since 2001 when Greg and Celeste Church packed up a U-Haul and their 18-month-old daughter and headed for Lubbock, Texas.
“That was a leap of faith for sure,” Celeste Church said. “Greg had never even seen Lubbock, and I’d only been there once, years before.”
But Texas Tech University, at Lubbock, was the couple’s destination. There, Greg was to begin studying toward his doctorate of musical arts in voice. The post-graduate program was a brand new venture for Tech. Greg was only the second to be accepted into the program.
A year later, Celeste Church would be the third graduate student to be accepted into the doctor of musical arts program in voice.
Six years later, in what the couple can only describe as a very long haul, many leaps of faith and unbelievably complicated schedules, both Greg and Celeste Church had their doctoral degrees conferred, at Texas Tech, on Aug. 11. The graduation ceremony, the couple said, was a graduation for the whole family.
“Our two daughters, Sarah and Becca, were as excited as anyone, I think,” Celeste said. “They felt like they were graduating too.”
The couple are both assistant professors at Howard Payne University, Greg having come to HPU for the fall semester of 2004, and Celeste joining the faculty in January 2005.
That’s a “God thing,” Celeste surmised.
“For us to be able to each have full-time teaching positions in our fields of expertise at the same university is something only God can do. It is such a blessing,” she said.
Also, the support they each received from their colleagues at HPU, from the choir and congregation of First Baptist Church, Brownwood, where Greg serves as the minister of music on a part-time basis, has been “incredible,” they both said.
But the true commitment, and what kept either from straying from the course of earning his or her doctorate, was the commitment the two made to each other.
“We made the commitment to each other that we would graduate,” Greg said.
“When we moved down here from Lubbock, we were on a steep learning curve,” he said. “Really, it was an incredible challenge. It took us a little time to learn how to be professors rather than students, and at the same time we were being a full time mom and dad. To add finishing a degree, it was tough.”
“We were burning up the road between here and Lubbock,” Celeste said, “but also working with very demanding schedules here.
“To have the degree, to actually know that part is done, finished, I feel like a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders,” she said.
“I don’t know if it’s fully hit me yet,” her husband added.
At the Aug. 11 commencement program, the newly conferred “Drs.” Greg and Celeste Church sang the Texas Tech alma mater — “a distinct honor for us,” said Celeste.
The doctorate of musical arts differs from a doctorate of philosophy, Celeste explained in that a Ph.D. is “more of a research and teaching” body of work. The DMA emphasizes performance and singing.
“For us, it is the highest professional level we can attain,” she said.
Greg has a bachelor of music degree from Wingate University (1989), while Celeste earned her bachelor’s degree in music from Baylor University in 1990. The couple met while they were both students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., earning their master’s degrees in church music.