Mentoring, scholarship program has six graduates this year

Six seminary students involved in a scholarship and mentoring program for racial-ethnic students who plan to be ordained as deacons or elders in The United Methodist Church graduated this year. Shown, from left, front: Analisa Trejo Barrington, JiHun Yoo, and Paul Trejo. From left, back, John M. Wang, Tabitha Mock-Scott, and Tariq Cummings.

Six seminary students involved in a scholarship and mentoring program for racial-ethnic students who plan to be ordained as deacons or elders in The United Methodist Church are receiving their M.Div. degree this year. That brings the total of graduates who took part in the Journey Toward Ordained Ministry program to 19 since it began in 2004.

Students say they learn a great deal at the retreats and from mentors, in addition to the financial support of a $5,000 scholarship each year. Analisa Barrington of Perkins School of Theology credited the program with enabling her to interact with people from many different ethnic and economic backgrounds.

“One of the greatest things I learned is that no matter what your background, when your identity is [centered] in Christ, you have so much more in common that you ever realized.”  Barrington graduated this year from Perkins in Dallas, where she also serves as youth pastor at Highland Park United Methodist.

The Journey Toward Ordained Ministry program, sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, combines much-needed scholarship support with ongoing mentoring by committed United Methodist clergy.  Additionally, scholars, mentors, and Board staff spend time in retreat together for reflection and discernment.

As important as this support is for seminary students, it is not only the students who benefit from the program.  The United Methodist Church itself, in great need of racial-ethnic clergy, is experiencing the value and benefit of committing time and resources to these seminarians.  According to 2011 statistics from GCFA, 11.4 percent of UM clergy are racial ethnic.

“Diversity is and has always been an important value of The United Methodist Church, and diversity in the pulpit is an extremely important piece of living out that value. The Journey Toward Ordained Ministry is a pivotal program for our church,” said the Rev. Trip Lowery, Director of Young Adult Ministry Discernment and Enlistment.

Lowery said statistics on the number of racial-ethnic clergy and candidates for ordination who indicate that identifying, supporting, and nurturing racial-ethnic young adults toward ordained ministry is critical.

Candidacy figures show that about 30 percent of candidates for ordination in the UMC are under 30, and about 18 percent of that 30 percent are racial ethnic, Lowery said.

“To meet the leadership needs of the church in the coming years, we have to be intentional and committed to these seminarians and their training.  Assigning mentors, bringing students and mentors together, giving students the best support we can—this is critical, imperative and key to our future,” says Lowery.

Allyson Collinsworth, executive director of GBHEM’s Office of Loans and Scholarships, said the $5,000 awarded to each JTOM recipient is considered a significant amount when compared to the average awards from other scholarship programs through GBHEM, but said the mentoring component is also invaluable.

“The students are able to form their own community that is safe and  specifically helpful in dealing with realities within the context of ministry within their ethnic communities,” Collinsworth said.

The six 2013 graduates come from a broad range of ethnic backgrounds.

John Wang, a graduate of the Divinity School, Duke University, begins serving this summer as a licensed local pastor at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Spokane, Wash.

“My mentor stressed the need for a disciplined and healthy prayer life through prayer and Scripture.  She also advised me to develop a support network of close relationships with local pastors in my area,” Wang said. “My mentor helped me to see . . . the importance of rest [and care for myself] to avoid physical and emotional burnout.”

Tariq Cummings, a graduate of Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta summed up his experience in the JTOM program this way:  “Through the time spent with my sisters and brothers, I have learned to always be open to the power and presence of God’s grace. From my mentors, I have learned that God will definitely give you the grace for the journey. Through the time spent in retreat, I have acquired skills in leadership that are sure to help me in the days to come.”

Cummings will be appointed in the North Georgia Annual Conference to Allgood Road United Methodist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga. He also plans to continue his candidacy towards elder’s orders in The United Methodist Church.

Perkins School of Theology graduate Paul Trejo will be working over the summer with Southwest Texas Conference staff for youth and college ministries.

The other two graduates this year are Tabitha Mock-Scott, Gammon Theological Seminary; and Ji Hun Yoo of Boston University School of Theology.

Funding for this program comes from local church offerings on Word Communion Sunday, held the first Sunday in October.  The receipts allocated to GBHEM are earmarked for scholarships for racial-ethnic students.

 

-Writer Helen Neinast is a UM elder and freelance writer who lives in Lakemont, Ga. This story provided by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry

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