Empowering UMC Ministry Through Financial Assistance

Published On: March 8, 2024

UMC Partnerships Help to Strengthen Theological Education

What could a newlywed from Alabama and a grandfather of two living in Washington, D.C., possibly have in common? Well as seminary students striving towards their ministerial calling, they may have more in common than meets the eye. Both John Bruce and Leslie Williams are recipients of the Excellence in Clergy Leadership Scholarship, and both understand that the high costs of education can sometimes be an obstacle in pursuing one’s dreams. However, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) is helping to tackle those barriers, one student at a time.

For pastors like Bruce, the road to graduation was made a lot smoother through the Excellence in Clergy Leadership Scholarship. The Excellence in Clergy Leadership scholarship was created to help United Methodist clergy avoid excessive educational loan debt, minimize financial stress, and build financial acumen. The scholarship is designed for full-time Master of Divinity students attending one of the 13 United Methodist seminaries/schools of theology.

MDIV students enrolled at a UM seminary/school of theology and pursuing candidacy in the UMC may apply for an Excellence in Clergy Leadership Scholarship starting Dec. 15, 2023 through March 13, 2024 at  gbhem.org/scholarships/scholarships/list-of-scholarships/.

Bruce said that he’s known for a long time that he wanted to pursue ministry (in fact, since he was 19 years old). Now that he’s had the chance to pursue his seminary degree, which he also plans to receive this coming May, from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., he finally can fulfill a dream 36 years in the making.

“Trying to fund my seminary journey alone would have been a mountain too steep to climb,” Bruce expressed. “The collaborative effort of matching partners like the West Virginia Conference, the United Methodist Foundation of West Virginia, Inc., Wespath Clergy Financial Well-Being Initiative and GBHEM has lightened my financial load, covering over one-third of my annual tuition expenses.”

Even more, Bruce is glad to be fulfilling his dreams within The United Methodist Church, which he has called home since infancy. 

“What sets The United Methodist Church apart is the connectional system,” Bruce said. “When Methodists harness our collective resources, we wield tremendous power to do good for those in need. Methodism honors laity as well as clergy.”

“Thanks to this scholarship, I’m not just dreaming.” Said Bruce, a seminary student who is headed into his last year and is now serving in a three-quarter-time pastoral role. “I’m thriving.”

Similar to John Bruce is Leslie Williams, a candidate in the North Alabama annual conference who serves both the Highlands and East Lake United Methodist Church congregations in Birmingham, Ala.

“Many people don’t see all the ancillary costs of higher education beyond tuition: books, academic fees, technology costs, plus all the round-trip plane tickets, housing, and food expenses.” Williams said. “It’s a lot for someone who’s going into a field that’s not exactly known for its high salaries.

“Receiving such a substantial scholarship to help offset the costs of my seminary education has made a world of difference in my life and vocation,” said Williams, who is studying at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology. “Attending seminary would not be a reality if it wasn’t for the generous support and encouragement from organizations like GBHEM.”

For Williams, whose husband is studying for his CPA exam after shouldering the burden of getting his Master of Accounting degree, the help of financial partners from the United Methodist Church provided an enlightening contrast with his journey.

“I am proud to say that I am expecting to have no student loan debt from my seminary education upon graduation in May 2024,” Williams continued. “I praise God for this! I was able to see how vastly different [my husband’s] experience was, trying to juggle his loans for business school. The financial assistance I received from GBHEM gave me the opportunity to avoid the vicious cycle of student loans.”

Williams said that if she could say something to the financial partners that made her seminary education possible, it would include a thanks for letting the Holy Spirit move through them in helping her pursue ministry.

“I would make sure they know that not only did their generosity make a difference in my financial situation and my ability to attend seminary, but that through these gifts, I also feel spiritual support and encouragement,” Williams said. “I truly feel like these scholarships are more than just funding, but are ways that God communicates reassurance and affirmation to me and other students.”

Williams is a candidate in the North Alabama annual conference, and the North Alabama United Methodist Church foundation matched her Excellence in Clergy scholarship. She is hoping to take that practical form of encouragement and that of her personal mentors and use it to bless others in God’s name, just like she has been.

Scholarship recipients like Bruce and Williams represent 47 of the 57 United Methodist Annual Conferences. Funding for the scholarship comes from matching donors—GBHEM, the Lilly Endowment, the 13 United Methodist seminaries/schools of theology, and participating United Methodist Annual Conferences and Foundations. We encourage Annual conferences and United Methodist foundations who want to partner with GBHEM to provide Excellence in Clergy Leadership Scholarships to contact Allyson Potts, GBHEM’s Executive Director of Scholarship Engagement at apotts@gbhem.org.

Online donations for the Excellence in Clergy Leadership Scholarship may be submitted here: gbhem.org/donate4students

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